gratitude songs

by Jill Battson

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released June 17, 2013

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Jill Battson Toronto, Ontario

Jill Battson is an interdisciplinary poet. She has written several plays as well as the libretti for two operas and produced an electro acoustic sound art project. Dark Star Requiem, for which she wrote the libretto, premiered at Toronto’s Luminato Festival in 2010 and was published in book form. Her new collection, The Ecstatic Torture of Gratitude, was recently published by Guernica Editions ... more

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Track Name: The Stone House
The Stone House

for Susi Reinink

House whose walls are cut from the crust of the earth
pre-Cambrian reliquary for farmers
resurrected from tatters of neglect
you were built on the quiet land before
cars made distances nothing
your stones worn soft by prevailing winds
darkened to ochre and charcoal by rain
catching a glimpse of your welcoming lights
when walking the fields
on drizzle-darkened autumn evenings
or your grey-yellow stones through
summer’s heavy trees
means the house forms its word
around a meaning of home
blissful centering that promises belonging
house that will soothe city-tense psyche
shield me from the larger world
here is a softness that protects
small light and quietness in winter
cool breezes and subtle scents in summer
house, you are rock risen and hewn
older than time shaped
in the cradle of your history I have found my home.
Track Name: The Language of Love
The Language of Love

for Mike and Sergey

Language rolls off my tongue like a port city’s ancient grand hotel
or bronzed roses in a rolled-sleeve snowscape
naked as a painter’s muse, a rush of purple flesh tones and black
my memories target the small points of affection
framed in a constant shifting landscape across America
as you shape my history
a wind blown gorge edge wears a leather wedding kilt
fetish dark corners and the crisp cold of a soon-coming Canada
is sharp and poignant as a summer-hot sidewalk kiss
or wind across the salt drenched plain burning my feet electric

and you

finding the prize in an unexpected easter egg hunt of love, campus coloured
when rain-slick black pavements reflect the cast of pale skin
I am struck by a loss and gain in equal measure
a trepidation soothed by beautiful manners and kind gestures
spray of baby’s breath and roses, red and blood red green
open candidness a balm on turbulent tongue, emotional disquiet
my feet rolling pebbles over a clacking grey beach, green water
heaviness of head caves my chest, a trust, a love, thoughts direct to my heart

and together

union cast from the unknown, a cultural diversity of learning
sweet conclusion of skin that belongs in the hands of the beloved
to press shoulders against challenge, to love beyond difference
silver emulsive second when an apex soothes a static flash
and two men held in my soul, the united force of love and respect
together: this means everything in the language of the world
Track Name: Lessons from Frank
Lessons from Frank

for Frank Morgan

When Frank said
put something of you in the place
he plunged me into a rest-of-the day funk
I could never be the jazz-loosened loose bone thing he is
the improv that jazz is all about
a conversation that moves across the stage
lightning moments between the instruments
as the response is rethought
the voice that jazz speaks
tell me in that voice

When Frank plays his horn
it’s like yesterday never happened
or tomorrow doesn’t need thinking about
the music is just there, his breath following the voice
his fingers squeezing the notes
melody he sees on his darkened retina
like nothing written and everything felt
when Frank says
Always leave room to do what’s in your heart
I feel squeezed like an exhalation of breath
like I cannot do what he does
even with my words

When Frank plays live
I am hearing the breathy intake of air beneath music
the tack of saliva between tongue and reed
a cushioned tap of brass keys
his life’s history in the metallic edge of methadone
I am hearing a life lived, a man learning
I am hearing Bird and Miles and Louis
in countless hotel rooms and back alleys, the weed urine aroma
when Frank says
I’m no good at taking care of myself
I remember Thelonius with his wife packing a cardboard suitcase
and Frank’s toffee skin, the reed leaning bottom teeth
I know it’s too late for me to live that life

When Frank’s music envelopes me
in 7am rising light, the Chamisa blooming in my breathing
I am driving up through mountains, along the high road past Chimayo
carried away with the salty extravagance of sound
the smooth quality of knowing one’s heart
remembrance of love lost and regained
a floating cushion of familiarity
and Frank’s notes breathing across a landscape serene
the modulated security of distance
when Frank says
All I want to do is rehearse my craft
I understand the need for selfishness
the quality of genius.
Track Name: Always the Scent of Gardenias
Always the Scent of Gardenias

at the Laurentian Room with Darryl

In ten seconds the weight in your grasp
fricassees to an urgency through the delicacy of politeness
twin lozenge of soft caved burgundy
a dropped ceiling that crushes sound, crushes heat down into the crowd
spritz of sweat sheens my top lip
as red tones wash everything
the cinnamon bartender looking like Hemingway’s Cuba
the pale cocktail into a climaxed gold glow
the thin fabric of your too-tight tee shirt pulling erect nipple flat lilac
the pink prints your fingers erupt into my flesh
as I am microcosm’d into a frenzy of desire
for the way your shirt pulls its fan of fabric across your armpit, chest
the room stops still as I watch the muscles of your cheek pull your mouth into a smile

‘Laurentian’
has always evoked a sadness of evergreen in me
snow-bent winter limbs over glossy winding mountain roads
a singular car journey laced with open-eyed loneliness

not the promise of this heat-stunned sickness
flooding my mouth slick as saliva, viscous as desire
as your fingers ache me, your knee forces its bone into my groin
martini glasses glint orange over the cherry wood bar
clatter of ice soundtracks the colour of your eye
I lean into you, catch the smell of soap, tinge of your body,
the rum warming your mouth
and the slight fragrance of heavy gardenia blooms
Track Name: Garden Love Poem
Garden Love Poem

In the garden my heart relaxes its beat
in the chlorophyll idyll haze
of verdant tones, yellow to blue
the earth, dark after summer rains,
is a pure sifted canvas
a dark warm incubator
for sturdy points of onions
wet sparkle of young leaves
here is where I breathe satisfaction
hard work a tangible reward
I pluck invaders
my hands are a fine line map of soil and juice
I kneel at the edge of rows
surrounded and comforted by plants
who hide their bounty under leaves
and beneath soil
or flaunt it in the heat of the sun
I thrill when a single green trail shifts earth
straight rows of variant heights
luxuriant vegetation overflow
morning reflection is a walk through dew
and I exhale green.
Track Name: Love Poems for Singers
Love Poems for Singers
3. Calvin

In the house of the voice
a rumble
consistent with the vibrato of sex
shift echo soft tissue
rugged space of breath
expansion chest scarlet musculature
these delicate wrist bones
fingers run favours
across cerebral pages of curiosity

In the house of the voice
backs turn inward
gentle lingering of flesh
impossibilities ring ears
coffee cascade voice demands attention
hazel rush sand tears twinkle
shifting chimeratic mood
cacophony of contrition
as gesture breaks a heaven of possibility
lets sunlight flood roof of the house.
Track Name: Channeling Thelonious
Channeling Thelonious

for David Virelles

Genetically inherited coffee tones
the twenty seven bones in the span of a hand
channel Monk from the keys
Rise up, Monk! Rise up
pull those tunes out of this boy
his head turned to the side
listening to the hollow of the grand
as it charismas its notes into the world
cork, ivory, tap of felt
his fingers a blurred vision of strength
or soft melancholy reticence
as if really hearing the tune for the first time, in wonder …
And should it be played this way, Monk?
or this …?
discordant notes dragging behind
just a little longer than you’d expect
caught in this moment
where music – felt by the body, driven by the body –
moves into fingers as they make their way
with the weight of melody into the keys
singing with unconscious expression
unearthly, emotive
six feet four inches of Monk rises up
ebony ghost fingers touching this young soul
playing the tune from the next world
or in the turbulent world of himself
eccentricity of two hand spans
translates Monk’s energy into music
channels language with finesse
Track Name: My Boys
My Boys

My boys ride with me in the truck
I am girl squashed between love
a grey muzzle next to my neck
peripheral green eye
a black shoulder against mine, leaning
they watch cows and horses
trying to imagine them as bigger dogs
follow the raven’s flight across fields
scan mountainsides for clues
and guard the truck even though
the street dog is oblivious of their presence
My boys stretch out in the back
or curl tiny on the passenger seat
their nose juice forming patterns over windows.
Track Name: Snapshot
Snapshot

for bill bissett

there is a smack of palm on dried gourd skin
as the spray-rain rattle fills the air
his rich-toned voice clear
a blue remembrance of Pyramid Lake
hot spring peyote warrior

and a damp hug on a humid city day
when impossibilities overwhelm …
box of rolled canvas splashed acrylic red
yellow winds, a single eye
the airport looms transcanada living

and sliced oranges on a china plate
sweet citrus, his gentle spirit
enigmatic history a felt hat away
black and white west coast photo
in still frame, movie clip, a brain catalogue

and where poems layer the atmosphere
like songs, like chants, like incantations
a body politic, the night dance
fresh spindrift of life and salt
words curled from his tongue
forming a column of energy, a splash of stars

and his spirit, unfettered in the emulsion of the living …
Track Name: Lightning, as Seen from New Mexico
Lightning, As Seen from New Mexico

for Jacquie Jacobs

That night, the cloying Prussian sky –
sheet of damask hung from the heavens –
we stopped the car, stood along the roadside
and watched the Colorado horizon erupt and spark
into a white hot electricity that stung the eye
tearing, relentless pursuit of oxygen
and not a sign of rain, or hint of thunder
just the lemon lightning ripping zigzag spaces in the sky
as easy as persuading rotten fabric to rip
hint of gas-blue static-ing
the turned-on, tuned-in radio
positive ion smell sparking our nostrils
sheets of undulating light sliced
by forks and horns, the summer staff
later, on the covered adobe porch we breathe iron
our lightsome faces spark over glasses of burgundy
we sit mindful of rolling thunder lolling north
and the full body splash of surprised rain, gutters falling flood-like.
Track Name: Calendar of Remembered Things
Calendar of Remembered Things

for Joy McIntosh

Signature sweep of draped wool shawl
New Mexico autumnal shades
golden aspen and sienna earth
your ready, wide-toothed smile, undefended against strangers
rustic blush, shock of yellow
you walk over wood floors, through the kitchen and are gone

warm adobe, jazz, a lighted kiva
your suede cowboy hat for nachos in the living room of Taos
kitschy east coast Christmas village set up along your hallway shelf
you knew the origins of Rumer
orange pueblo on Christmas eve
and the scarf you gave me that I always wear
you walk away down the outside stairs, disappear behind concrete wall

all the times we spent driving through the mountains
magnificent silence of low rain clouds
winter slush on windscreen, not quite spring rain
open chasm of the Gorge, surprising and Mesozoic
pumice slash of earth’s plates
and you now sprinkled there
a smear of sage between fingers
you drive away from cinema parking lot, my gallery, the Bean

your blue Subaru, six sisters of heaven
an emerald lake of angel fire
your throaty voice, rough with tobacco
ordering buffalo mozzarella on Café Renato’s terrace
or goat cheese pizza in Peñasco with trapeze artists
we shop for precious dipping oil in Santa Fe
watch Wynton Marsalis blow trumpet
over red plush and concrete clean to Los Alamos
you walk away across the stone patio into the cool, scented house

quiet ping of toasting glasses over white linen
a SantaCafé lunch starts
our favourite Target shopping trips
your last birthday dinner at the Stakeout
we were summer warm, sated with filet mignon
back-dropped against the blazing sky
and Taos Mountain gloaming purple in the setting sun
you wave goodbye to me, a last hug on sun-burnt lawns
and you are gone.
Track Name: Homage to the Lizard
Homage to the Lizard

for Stephen Bull

O lizard, guardian of the quiet house,
I have seen you peek from the high shelf above the sink
while I washed dishes
you are unblinking and still
until I fetched a broom to poke you

I have seen you scurry along the flagstone
and disappear through the smallest crack
you have thwarted curious dogs
and their dangerous inquiring paws
caused me to shriek when I discovered you inside saucepans

I have seen you motionless on walls
with your suction cup toes
you have surprised me with a flicking twist
of your scaled tail on the dinner table
and o lizard, when I find you this morning
upon the living room floor
grey and curled, as it fending off foes
I am surprised that you are dead.
Track Name: Away from You
Away from you

When I am away from you
it feels like I am wearing my skin inside out
I vibrate to capture the echoes from the universe
the wind speaks volumes on the nature of existence
I hear the pillow talk of Chinese courtesans
the enchanted songs of the sirens
the muffled hum of satellites
the sacred stories of Egyptian gods
I track the staccato beat of my own blood
and the calm tide of my heart
I see colours in a black and white world
kaleidoscopic, prismatic, peripheral
my fingertips carry the scent of gardenias
sage, sweet grass, my own sweat
I taste violets and salt on my tongue
the sharp, dry, remembered tang of your skin
shamanic glistening, the cards read out
away from you keeps me coming back.