Back in March of this year, about a week after I went into self-isolation from C19, like many, I was feeling pretty low, lost and lethargic, forcing myself into routines so that I didn’t lose my mind in a vast field of worry. But even though I was flying solo on this journey, I knew wasn’t actually alone. While doing mundane tasks like household chores and sorting of things that I’d put on The Wayside, I realized that so many of the people I love (along with those I hardly know, but who are very lovely) were probably doing the exact same things and quite possibly at the exact same time. I often imagine how many people might be laughing while I am laughing, crying while I am crying, eating toast at the precise moment I am eating toast. The great potential for this sort of banal synchronicity fascinates me. So I jotted down a quick poem and called it “Widespread Orchestra,” a phrase I’d had rolling around like a fat marble in my head for the better part of decade. The poem got a good response from folks, especially from my friend Noah Luna, composer and fellow San Joser, who took the poem and gave it a sound I am incapable of formulating or performing. Over the last several months, he’s built a beautiful song out of my words, which renders me speechless every time I see and hear it. Check it out for yourself.
Noah had asked me sometime in late spring if he could play with it. I love poetry over music, so I was emphatic in my affirmation. Noah asked world class cellist Joshua Roman to play the composition he had written for cello. Then they both recruited a number of vocalists from all over (I’d like to say the world, but I don’t actually know where they’re all located) to record themselves singing and to capture it on video. Through the awesome support of Town Hall Seattle, where Joshua is the current Artist in Residence, he and Noah were able to stitch together all of the vocal tracks and footage to make what you see and hear in the video.
We had a video debut of the song over Zoom the other day a good number of the vocalists joined us. Many of them commented on how it was the first time they had to listen to themselves sing solo for a chorus. Noah commented that is was the first time he’d ever heard every voice in a chorus individually as he put the track together. Very fascinating work.
They made a widespread “orchestra” and turned my little poem into a much, much bigger song. My mind is blown and I cannot thank them enough.
Many, many thanks and kudos to Noah Luna and Joshua Roman for their incredible, remarkable work. Huge thanks to the vocalists who participated in this strange and beautiful endeavor. Major thanks and gratitude to the folks at Town Hall Seattle for their part in making this happen.
Noah and I are already talking about future projects. Stay tuned.
Today will forever be a reminder that I was once the heaviest smoker I knew. I rolled tobacco and smoked constantly. On average, I smoked the equivalent of three packs a day of pre-rolled cigarettes. I smoked my final tobacco cigarette on November 11, 2011, ending my habit just two months shy of 19 years. I realized a little later that day that I had put out my final cigarette at 11:00am, coincidentally stopping my tobacco habit on 11/11/11 at 11:00am. Had I realized the date and time, I would’ve had one more and put it out at 11:11am, although, the last cigarette I did smoke wasn’t very tasty or the least bit satisfying. And it’s much more satisfying to have had the universe schedule it for me without my knowledge.
Growing up, I loved the smell of my mom’s Virginia Slims and my dad’s unfiltered Camels. In my house there wasn’t much of a concentrated effort toward making sure it looked unappealing. I was fascinated with smoking. It looked so cool to me. I was destined to smoke. I recall my grandmother having smoked for 30 years before stopping sometime around 1983. When I was a little older, she recommended I quit before I became too hooked, but it was too late. I had already been smoking a pack a day within the first few months of my habit. I had always thought she had quit cold turkey, but my mom confided in me that Grandma had had a procedure done—she had some sort of small metal BBs surgically embedded over some nerve inside or near her earlobes. Whenever she craved a cigarette, she would rub the BB lump behind her ear until the craving went away. I never confirmed it, but I watched out for ear tugging a la Carol Burnett.
In the spring of 2011 I was in Vancouver, BC for a few shows. My friend and old touring partner Shane Koyczan and I were backstage and I asked him to join me outside for a cigarette. He told me he hadn’t had a cigarette in six months. I was dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. This was a dude who had matched me smoke for smoke, pack for pack in all the days we spent together on the road and at home. The only thing left to fall out of my mouth was, What!? How!?? Shane told me that a few years earlier he had bought the book Easy Way To Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. He kept in his desk and tried reading a few times. The last time finally stuck.
I figured if it worked for Shane then I had to at least read the book. I had wanted to quit, but never saw much light in the possibility of succeeding. I bought the book on my mobile device and I read it over three days on a ferry trip from Vancouver to Victoria and back in BC, smoking the entire time. After completing the book, I smoked three more cigarettes and suddenly knew I was done. The book’s re-brainwashing had worked, but the feelings of anxiety and dread to come were horrible. Nearly everything I ever did throughout my adult life had been followed by or rewarded with a cigarette or three. The book itself is not an incredible example of the English language at its best. It’s redundant and repetitive, but that’s pretty much the prerequisite for brainwashing. Carr included some analogies that really hit home with me and helped me to visualize stopping my habit, including using the word stopping in place of quitting. Once you can see it, you know what you’re looking for. He also used a minefield as a smoker’s map. Once you smoke your first cigarette, you’ve stepped into a minefield. Every cigarette is a step within that minefield. Technically, a smoker never leaves that field and if they are lucky, they never set off any number of disease mines. This worked very well for me, but what convinced me it was time to stop was the realization that I had promised myself I’d stop smoking before I reached five years in, then 10 years in, then 15, then 20. I couldn’t believe I was a year away from 20 years of smoking. I finally kept my promise.
In 1996, my bandmate Kelley Mayne was the first friend I knew who stopped smoking and seemingly never looked back. He was 21 and dead set on discontinuing the habit. We’d meet up for band practice and he would join us outside between songs, just staring at us or into the void while the rest of us smoked. I’d ask him how it was going and he referred to it as feeling like he was in “Gumbyland.” I’d ask him to describe it, but he never could. He would just monotonously reiterate I’m in Gumbyland.
Now, much like my grandmother, I too didn’t quit cold turkey. I never could quite get the hang of having empty hands or a mouth that wanted so badly to suck in smoke, and a trachea that wants to catch it all. After a couple of weeks of feeling like I was losing my mind, a friend recommended that I try rolling herbal cigarettes. Living in Portland, Oregon at the time, there were a few paraphernalia shops that sold blends of smokable herbs like skullcap, chamomile, passionflower, marshmallow, mugwort, mullein, rose, damiana, mint and so much more. All I did that winter was loiter around my living room binge-watching Parks and Recreation, waiting for someone to come over who smoked so I could join them and bask in their second hand fumes. When my friend Eirean came over and realized what I was rolling, he told me couldn’t associate with someone who “smoked tea.”
Now, there’s a certain way a drag of smoke had to hit the back of the pharynx that made me feel like I was getting the full effect of smoking a cigarette. I would wager that most smokers know what I am talking about. I knew a number of especially heavy smokers who agreed that if it didn’t hit the back of the throat just right on the first two or three drags, it was very difficult to fully enjoy the rest of the cigarette. After about five months of smoking my herbal “tea” blend, I just stopped. There was no intentional weaning myself off of it, it just faded away. I had no interest in it anymore and the oral fixation had finally disappeared. I was full-fledged non-smoker by spring of 2012. Shane and my then partner Leia were pivotal in supporting me as I put an end to such a stupid habit, along with my entire family for not commanding me to do it, but simply supporting me throughout. Shane checked in with me a lot to pep me up. He recommended that I start the stopwatch on my iPod, since it would run for a very long time. Then, whenever I needed a reminder, I could see how long it had been since I’d had a cigarette. It helped. Leia may still have my last cigarette butt.
As a smoker, I remember crashing with friends at their fifth floor walk-up in Brooklyn. Taking wheeze breaks half-way up, then spending ten to fifteen minutes catching my breath in their hallway while dreaming of a cigarette. I’d climb out to their fire escape to smoke to avoid the five awful floors to the outside. Within days of stopping, my lung capacity felt greater. Within weeks, I had much less trouble breathing, I slept better, and after a couple flights of stairs I could catch my breath within ten to fifteen seconds.
The winter months following that last cigarette were about detoxing my body from nicotine, tar and thousands of other chemicals, but also, and seemingly moreso, it was about reconditioning my thinking and my hands. What do I do when all I want to do is the thing I no longer want to do? Fifteen years after Kelley tried to explain it to me, there I was in my own private Gumbyland. I wish I could fully describe it here, but the best I can say is that suddenly everything is at about 65% reality. What’s there isn’t fully there, especially thought processes. The realness and truth of anything—consciousness, matter, identity, air, purpose, connectivity, joy—can just suddenly fade to nearly half of its natural state. And there’s an inaudible hum-buzzing that commandeers one’s head, maybe to fill in the desire that cannot be achieved or a side effect thereof. Gumbyland is less a place and more an in-between. Where one might go when a massive bandage is torn off.
Smoking was thoroughly enjoyable to me. I miss it. The aroma of a freshly lit cigarette is one of the most intoxicating scents and it sends me back to great and horrific moments in equal measure. The draw it has on me still is fascinating. To say I was addicted to smoking tobacco is an understatement. I knew it would kill me and I certainly didn’t need added assistance. In 2003, I began traveling a lot on poetry tours around North America and Europe. There were so many times I booked flights based solely on not wanting to have to wait more than a few hours before my next cigarette. I would catch the first leg of a flight, land at my layover airport, rush out of security to the smoking area outside to chainsmoke as many cigarettes as possible. Then I would rush back into the airport, through security to my new gate. I must have reeked of smoke. I feel bad for the non-smoker passengers around me. At nearly every show or visits with friends, I would stand outside of the venue or house because it was more important for me to smoke than to engage with whoever I was there to see.
Funny how the one thing I thought was the coolest thing I could do was least cool thing I ever did. Smoking will still likely be a culprit in my death.
In 2016, I helped convince my father to stop smoking after living 40+ with the habit. My mother has switched to vaping her nicotine; not optimal, but a start. I am impressed with all three of us. If you want to stop, I give you my word that you can absolutely do it. You just need support and all the right reasons to quit.
My hometown of San José, California is accused of only having two or three seasons, warm and less warm. Fine by me as long as snow doesn’t begin to acclimate to warmth. Other than looking at it for its inherent beauty, I despise being in the snow. I’ve heard folks attempt to mention the one time they saw snowfall in San José, but I stop them midst their woeful tales of blasphemy and wash my hands of our friendship. I’ve said it before: San José does actually have four seasons: light summer, summer, autumn and extreme autumn.
Summer has always been the time of the year when I abandon blankets, pants, long sleeves, safety and (especially) organization. Let me be honest with you: I have a thin relationship with pants to begin with. I want to wear shorts all year long. I can get away with it for about 10 1/2 out of 12 months. I am wearing shorts now. I will wear them tomorrow as well. Only, like many of you, I will be indoors for a large part of the day. But I have an even thinner relationship with organization.
When it is not summer, I love to do the thing that I call organizing: the act of stacking up the detritus of my entire life—over two or three years worth—into about three to five piles/boxes/baskets while fantasizing every now and then about what it might be like to, someday, schedule a time to attack the stacks. I have learned over the last few years that all I do is restack everything into temporarily smaller, neater piles. Small piles under my control always grow.
Ugh. I admit, I am a hoarder.
Let me clarify. I am a clean person. I shower once or twice a day. I take out the garbage frequently. I am adept at recycling. I clean out Xena’s litter box regularly. I am not super keen on yard work, but what one can see of my front yard from the street is neighborly. I collect tiny silverware I rarely use, but I never leave dirty dishes anywhere but the kitchen sink. Hoarding must fall on a spectrum. I am a hoarder in the sense that I can’t get rid of a good jar or box or magazine. I will find a use for it someday, or I will finally give a stack of it away. I have hard drives full of files I don’t need. As a self-taught designer of promotional flyers, posters and marketing images, I have nearly every file I’ve ever made that advertises past shows. Part of me wants to post them online as a gallery, but that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. I have a filing cabinet with some semblance of order to the folders of files, but I don’t know why I still have many of them. I have documents online and social media accounts for things I’ve only used once. To me, a hoarder is someone preparing forthe future, armed only with troves of items in triplicate that are certainly useless in the now—even beyond useless—an actual hindrance to the path of time used wisely. My jars and my flyers are in my way. I now feel as though my hoarding of papers and ephemera and sentimental items is an attempt at creating a future: If I have these things to deal with, but no time today to do the dealing, then a tomorrow must exist in order for the clutter to be dealt with. I put most of my life in The Wayside, maybe so that I can tend to the present?
I never have any desire to organize any aspect of my life in the dead of summer. The Urge to burrow, to sort papers and move furniture and donate clothes and books usually hits me like a tornado in the late fall and again in the early spring. Before Friday, 13 March 2020, I was performing, producing events, organizing workshops and hosting shows. I ran around downtown, hobnobbing, planning, detailing, and setting up and attending meeting after meeting with venues and performers alike. Because of my gluttonous schedule, I rarely had time to truly organize my life and the items in it with any real commitment. But here we are coming down the other side of July Mountain and I am in the midst of some of the most serious organizing I’ve ever attempted. According to my now deleted 2020 schedule, by now I should have already hosted five outdoor festivals, dozens of poetry events, four Go Go Gone Shows—all while performing at countless live readings and open mics. Right now, instead of writing this, I should have spent the last four weeks teaching poetry to kids at the School of Arts & Culture Summer Camp. I miss those events and I miss my students.
Admittedly, I also feel fine about not participating in any of them. I didn’t feel fine about it initially, but then I had to ease into something akin to wearing pants in the summer. Now I wake up to a very light schedule and I cuddle with Xena almost as long as she wants.
I lay all of this out to say that up until June, I kept thinking about the future. How would I reconnect my pre-pandemic identity and my life actions to a mystery point in the future?—a date I cannot possibly know. For the first month, my brain urged me to keep my life on hold until that mystery date so that I may restart all of those activities and be Mighty Mike McGee again. Someday, we will all be able to select and delete The Quarantine start date, the end date and everything in between them! Right? But there is no date on the horizon. There is no box on a 2020 calendar that I can look forward to until there is a Covid vaccine. I have come to terms with the notion that I need to self-isolate through 2020—and likely until the day a medical professional is injecting a vaccine into my body. Until then, no shows, no gatherings, and no socializing in the ways I was accustomed. What to do? Logically, dig into it. I shall see it for the personal gift of time that it is and I will organize and I will create. Utilize this time to reconsider every aspect of my life and smash my own preconceived notions of identity, dismantle my own patriarchy, double-check my sense of self, reinforce my wavering sense of duty, investigate and unlearn my misogyny, my racism, my prejudices, and any other burdens I put upon my communities. Slow the fuck down. Stop and smell the anything and the everything.
Luckily, I write for a local weekly arts paper and it pays the rent and bills for now, plus I get food stamps to cover my groceries. I feel incredibly lucky and all I need is to do is hold on like this for now.
Like many, I’ve had so much time to think and reflect on everything, internally and externally, while seeking the grand connection between me and the world. Because honestly, who I thought I was prior to 13 March is not who I think I’m going to be come 2021. The past few months have really brought a number of very powerful feelings and ideas to my attention. I have spent so much time pushing my name out into the world. The last 20 years have been constant self-promotion. It is a symptom of the desire for fame and my desire for it has faded significantly over the the last year.
I claim to be someone who hosts shows and I can prove that with loads of evidence. I also claim to be someone who writes things, but up until recently, my most consistent period of writing was 1995 through 2003. I was constantly writing while working the graveyard shift at Kinko’s, and while socializing, which included attending open mics and poetry slams. I turned some of that writing into 11 years of touring and performing. In 2014, I came home to San José and began producing variety shows and poetry events, partially out of my need to stay put. Over the last six years, I’ve hosted so many shows and promoted my events so much that I was recognized on a regular basis. Up until March, I wrote the occasional poem, but only if I had a deadline to write it in. I thrive on the pressure; I am forced to take risks when I am running out of time. Now I write because it’s urging me to let it out. Much like it did in 2001 when I was poor, struggling and so curious about me and the world and how the two fit into each other. I have come full circle, but this current version of myself knows a bit more—I have been heart-broken a few times, in love several times, and I’ve seen a few lifetimes worth of human interaction.
I now live an alarmless life. Writing is one of the few aspects of self-isolation that has made me feel alive. I find myself excited to create again. After treating this website like a glorified business card, I am now adding to it more and more. Mostly poems and thoughts, but the frequent output is very welcome. I have put off so much of what I am passionate about, relegating the things that won’t immediately pay the bills to I just don’t have the time for it now. I now have a glut of time to dedicate to causes and creativity (and I am halfway through the sitcom Cheers.)
It feels strange to say that the actions I am taking now are things I want to do considering I, like many of us, have no real choice in the matter. In order to feel safe living in a city, I must spend most of my day at home. I am a homebody again, like in my mid-twenties when I spent so much of my time in my bedroom writing and thinking about everything. This also means I am now spending most of my day in The Wayside. It is a real place now and it is bursting at the seams with the detritus of my entire life. It is actually, and probably subconsciously, my way of saying, I can’t deal with the past today, but maybe future me will. Saying it deserves my attention now is saying I need to pay attention to who I was and truly organize this time if I am going to have a future. This world is a puzzle and I cannot be hindered by jpegs, jars and boxes if I’m going to help figure it out.
“The times are urgent: let’s slow down.”—Bayo Akomolafe
“Mrs. McGee, if it is Spina Bifida, then the best as we can tell is your son is gonna be… special. His spine is fragile, so he probably won’t be able to walk. He’ll be slow to learn and he may never talk.”
Jokes on them. My mom spent the next fifteen years letting me prove them wrong. It’s really something that one incorrect snap diagnosis from a doctor making things up as he went could lay a foundation of You Will Never for the next 26 years of my life.
The one time my parents danced together was at their wedding. They almost lasted three years after that. My dad just doesn’t dance.
My mom loves to dance. With the right people, that is. “Michael, pick a tape for us to listen to while we clean okay?”
My little hands were steel to the magnet that was Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall.”
I hope I never forget the memory of my mother sweeping the kitchen floor while singing and swaying to “Rock With You.”
“Come on boys, dance with me!”
It’s okay if I dance, mom?
“Sure, just be careful!”
And we dusted and danced and danced and cleaned.
I remember standing in the bathroom while my mom put make-up on our roommate Nick.
I giggled. Mom! Boys don’t wear make-up!
“Yes, they do, Michael. Anyone can, especially if they’re going dancing.”
“Isn’t your mom making me look pretty, Michael?”
Yeah, Nick! She is!
Then I lived with my father for a brief period of time. He meant well.
“Michael, what’s all the ruckus up here?”
“Well, it’s probably best if you didn’t because it could injure your spine.”
I like dancing, dad.
“I know, son, I’m sorry.”
Comedy world, here I come!
Several years and four more kids later, I remember sitting in the bathroom watching my mom get ready to go out dancing. Watching her eyes. Seeing how happy she was to be getting out of the house.
I want to go dancing with you, Mom.
“No, Michael. This time it’s for me.”
I sort of understood. But my step-father didn’t. Her nights out dancing ended shortly thereafter, followed by her marriage.
I remember my stunning date to my high school senior ball. “Why did you bring me if you didn’t want to dance?” she said.
It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t. I can’t. Fat guys look stupid when they dance. I could injure myself.
But she was gone, already dancing alone in a sea of hormones.
This was the tenth time I rejected a person who wanted to move with me. Inside me, I could feel the sitcom audience of a thousand ancestors frustratedly sighing. You idiot! She wanted to share something unspoken with you. Something no teenager can explain!
I wish I knew it would have been okay to look weird. I was already weird. This just would have been intentional weirdness to a beat. You got flailing chaos in my weird! You got weird in my flailing chaos!
Why was I the only one not dancing?
Every teenager but me understands that they need to move. But that may be all they understand. “Hi! I am new to this world! Nice to meet you! I just do what my genitalia tells me to do. Right now it wants me to flail around you for at least two songs.”
At the very least, Social Dancing should be taught throughout primary school with the distinct purpose of making people feel comfortable moving their bodies however they want in the same room with others.
I am the result of the paired and shared movement between thousands of people from hundreds of cultures that needed to dance to understand that which could not be spoken. “Who are you? What the fuck is this energy? This music is controlling us. It wants us to make babies. We have no choice. But I like this song! And I like the names Stuart and Maggie.”
At school they said, “Mrs. McGee. Your son is… special. He’s very imaginative and intelligent, but he lacks motivation and he talks… a lot.”
Sadness and stress stopped my family from dancing, replaced it with The American Way: carbs and sugar and television. But we could laugh. That was gospel and forgiveness. Laughter is the one dance everyone knows.
Holy shit. Let me be THAT DJ!
Let me make people dance in place with their whole bodies. Let them come to me with tears in their eyes pointing to the part of their body that is now sore from laughter.
Let my weird be a music.
My mother has never asked me to make her laugh. I just know she needs it. She’s always an innocent bystander to my sense of humor. Her laugh is big. It’s beautiful. It’s one of my favorite sounds. It dances into my ears and says, “Welcome home, my bright boy. I love you with every heartbeat. How did you become you? How are you so special?”
Her laugh dances into my heart, which responds:
Mom, I thought I couldn’t dance. I thought there were rules I was breaking. There are things I am not allowed in this life, right? I thought I was too disabled, fat and ugly to show my face on the dance floor. But it is all I want to do, Mom. Because of you, whenever I think of dancing, I think of love. Thank you for dancing with me and telling me it would be okay.
Dance is love. A language I want to be fluent in.
We all show love in different ways.
I talked a lot because my body wants to dance.
My body has something to say.
I am a great dancer.
Which makes me a great lover—especially when I dance alone.
So if you can’t dance, it’s okay!
Do you mind if I dance near you?
I’d be honored to dance around you.
Let me make you laugh.
Let me dance and laugh with you at your table.
In your living room. In the backyard.
We can bob our heads on the bus.
We can tiny dance from the waist up while sitting at a cafe.
We can slow dance in the kitchen and on the porch.
We can dance if we want to, and we won’t leave your friends behind
Because your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance well then
let’s get close and say I love you with our floppy flailing chaos.
If I am dancing, what I am saying to everyone in the room is some combination of
I love you
We are so alive.
I love… myself.
Huh. That’s what you meant mom! It was for you. Not the men in your life. Not even us kids.
And because you danced with me, I learned to love myself too.
On March 3, 2003, I set out to write a poem with the hope it would be something I would like to perform a lot. I won a quite a few poetry slams with this one through 2004. It is an intense piece that I still love and I still perform it when I am feeling too quiet. It ended up becoming one of my favorite poems to perform as a group with Shane Koyczan and C.R. Avery as our band Tons of Fun University. It was the opening track on our first album, “The Them They’re Talking About.”
Now, hear me out
I licked the acidic pages of poets who showed it through rhyme and verse
psychedelic thoughts immersed so I could rehearse these words in my head
Fuck MTV, I want my RC Weslowski
Hip-hop is a language of the street anyone who speaks it well is an artist of the world
because the world is covered in streets—we all live on streets
the street is where you go to find out what the world is up to
I wanna be hip-hop
I want to be so in tune with the world that I am a language
that every line I write is almost an unimaginable concept
like becoming static
When you turn on the TV to a channel that isn’t there
you hit static
Most of us change the channel to find silly situations to escape with
but static is art; static is discovery
It started as energy and then someone wanted to hear it
so it became
Then someone wanted to see it and television was born, to bring static
to the masses
Nobody understands it, some of us call it dead air, but it’s alive
like you and me
maybe even more
Everyday I discover just how alive I am
Every room I enter, there’s a living woman who doesn’t realize how
much she loves me yet
I will bet it’s only because we haven’t been introduced
I wanna be hers cuz she doesn’t
I’ve wanted to be hip-hop ever since I wasn’t
Ladies & gentlemen, I wanna be the scores of yours
I wanna be rock and roll, a rolling rock
I’m running out of time, so fuck the clock
Time paints us whatever color it sees fit
I wanna be black or white or brown or yellow
I wanna be consumed by shades of static
I wanna be on TV – in between channels 2 and 3
I want to be chromatic static
comfortable white noise for all the B-girls and B-boys
lulling them to dream, reaching to scream
I know I’m not what I seem
I look like shit, but I taste like cream
I want to be that of which only a few people watch when they should be asleep
I want to be the place where seeds are sown so others can reap
I am static; romantic electric camouflage
I’m the dead silence before applause
the healing qualities of wound wrapping gauze
a big, bag of presents from Santa Claus
I’m not the first poet or a Last Poet, but in between
I want to be nomadic
in static submissions
the rock and roll star at the end of all transmissions
People will watch me without knowing it
rocking you and rolling you without showing it
From time to time, at three in the morning
as you solve the world’s problems, I’ll be there
at the beginning and the end of your radio dial
If you wanna see me on TV, unplug your fucking antenna
I will be static, you will be hip-hop and breath
I will write to the beat of your feet & read it in your death
I want my hip-hop rhymes to be so good they just don’t rhyme anymore
But what’s in store for the whore that is me?
The one they call Mighty Mike McGee?
Fuck that, call me Johnny Appledog
Because the seeds I sow will grow to be trees of thought that walk to
you when you call them
You see, beyond hip-hop and the rigmarole of rock and roll
is just me who used to be a little boy who couldn’t but wanted to give
a little more of what it never really had
offering happy when it felt a little sad
a little bit of static in a world gone mad
I am creating a destiny for the rest of me in a life I attest to be the best of me
Laugh cuz shit’s funny
cry cuz it fucking sucks
Say hello to the world before goodbye and gone
turn on the TV when you know nothing’s on
and think of me before you panic
cuz when I leave this world, I’m coming back as…TCHSSHHHHH
Today is the first day in two years in which I woke up and was no longer Santa Clara County’s poet laureate. To have had and fulfilled the honorary title over the previous 730 days was one of my dreams come true and an adventure I could not have gone alone.
I am grateful for the poets who helped me in every poetic endeavor. I am so grateful for a county that raised me, that fueled my humor, my poetry, my love of words and my need to shout them wide and often. I am grateful for the people of Poetry Center San José whose unyielding support has kept me going in ways they could not have known I needed, a testament to their good character. I am grateful and indebted to the folks who saw to it that this opportunity would land in my name and embolden my weird, uncommon need to see to it that poetry shines and sings across this valley.
I am grateful for the guidance and friendship I have received from the poets laureate who came before me, Nils Peterson, Sally Ashton, David C. Perez and Arlene Biala. I am grateful for the incoming poet laureate, that they too wish to help hard, beautiful words resonate for our neighbors in this time and the times to come; I, too, will be here for you in poetry and in friendship. Thank you all for letting me be a part of a foundation for expression in this place I love so dearly.
ODE TO THE DELIGHTFUL HEARTS OF THE VALLEY
An ekphrasis by Mike McGee
After Julia Chang’s mural, In The Valley of Heart’s Delight, San José Museum of Art, 2017. Debuted live in front of the mural at the SJMA’s 10th Annual Poetry Invitational, April 18, 2019
From this basin
between these ranges of hills
made for feet and hooves
I’ve seen the sun at every angle at every moment of the day
I’ve seen moon rise up from every possible hill
This goes to impossible beauties
even when I was unprepared, with eyes closed
or overtly selfish and unblinking
In my time, here
under the newest trees
in this land of graveyard orchards
and industries that fed three generations of my people
Keeping my mom and her mom struggling to keep us from struggling
I have worked for a paycheck at every hour of the day
In all of the seconds that come in year, there are none I have yet to laugh in
This goes to those who’ve made me laugh
in every city this valley cradles
This goes to a family that taught me
to be better at making laughter instead of money
I miss the folks I’ve made it to 4am with
the sunrise set
Protectors of the block
guardians of bookshelves on
2nd & Empire
6th & San Salvador
5th & Julian
all the way North First Street
Maybe I was the mayor of Alviso (all nine acres)
the love child of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara
Campbell’s loitering layabout
I could write odes to my crush on Milpitas
And Los Gatos
I’ve heard of you
This goes to
the protectors of Nancy Lane and the East Side
I think about you
To the living history at Alum Rock and King
To the cherry blossoms in Japantown
to midnight at the midtown Safeway
To leaving and always coming back
To the children who will find love in this valley
in between falling into industry
and a balance
like our four impossible seasons:
and extreme autumn
This goes to the streets in all of our cities
and to the people who use them get somewhere
but especially to those who the streets got to first
to those who push everything they own in front of them
and yet, have nothing to speak of
This too is for you
This goes to the valley I hope to die in
if only this body would generate enough ash
to cover all the streets I’ve lived on
There is no perfection in perpetuity
Even a noble, ancient industry of fruits and vegetables
will be paved over for something easier
The sun shines brighter here
to see the impossible beauties
they come in glimpses
sometimes in a breeze of mock orange blossoms
in how our motherboards
help us put together the right combination of emojis
to let the best person we know
know how much we love them
Or how we love
and whatever us is
This is for the thousands of seconds
we’ve spent together
thank you all
thank you for filling this valley
with your delightful hearts