I have two seats from a minivan A housemate moved out last summer and into said vehicle I had stopped them from chucking them into a dumpster They looked so inviting two perfectly plush porch chairs built for butts on long drives and lives stalled by plagues
During the warmest parts of the pandemic, they sat in my driveway Always a housemate or two with nowhere to be chatting, eating, people watching from a distance
When the rain finally came, I moved them to the covered patio in the backyard
My whole life, I have always put a second chair next to mine Anticipating the unexpected arrival of a friend or a brave stranger looking to chat The clearest visual for hope I have ever produced
As the weather cools and darkens Inside and out I only need one chair No one is coming Time to put the second chair anywhere but here A mere logical move when space is needed
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.
A Conspiracy of Clocks: An Ode to the Seemingly Useless and Certainly Mundane Biannual Task of Resetting Clocks
It would be so much easier if you got rid of us It’s funny how you only get to change us twice a year running around the house setting us back or forward usually wrong but what’s a few human minutes or seconds off that sub-sub-level of arbitrary we don’t really have time to get into right now yet, we’re always changing you you chase us we change everything We’re there for everything you’re waiting for and YOU ARE ALWAYS
W A I T I N G
even cats and lizards put waiting on pause to soak up the sun and lick their lips you program your phone so it can program you according to a schedule you agree to set by the sun a ball of fire too busy to notice you even exist but we notice, Mike we notice and every time you fall asleep we look at each other across the room and laugh we laugh so much that we lose track of time
I believe love can save the world it cannot be bottled only born, bruised and breathed I want to make mouths out of the wrists of sadness may they learn to speak only in the bloody tongues of compassion
I am ready to love ready to win, lose or draw upon there’s so much to do before the referee counts me out
I am ready to be love, be loved and be lovely We can be love like soft boys to hard girls let my heart be a smooth stone of petrified wood resting on the pages of your autobiography keeping you from blowing away
Let’s kiss beyond gender a kiss to any body that cannot cry and—if needed—we’ll keep it in daydreams until they can abandon old pride and bad jobs
We can hold you like we are fingers guarding you, our champion thumb We cannot fight without you
We cannot grasp this life without you We cannot introduce my true self without you there to hitch us a ride to the next town where we will find other lovers who want to walk hand in hand with whoever they choose and by the hand we will take them confident in our carriage over uncertain roads
We can be one who loves the kids who wake up to get beat up the talkers who turn the heat up the swingers at their first meet up the girls who leave the seat up
I am learning love the hardest way possible by pushing it up against a wall of logic as armor as sword as shield as a last name as a first word Because I love Mondays and you’ll be there some day some Monday and you’ll need someone like me to be a Monday person or a morning person or maybe just a person who’s present There many out there like me ready to gift you our presence don’t be afraid to ask
Let us remind you that you need love I remind myself often Because I’ve learned that some of the best love this world has to offer is self-taught, taken back, and it is given out like overstock from a garden in good hands
I am just one person out of so many who love you so take it make it yours we’ll all be better off if you hang onto it for a while then you can pass it along when the time is right with the right person
But most of the time Love looks like someone who looks at you like you are made of a lost translation of that same love sometimes love is boomerang sometimes love is an accidental grenade we think is too heavy to keep and carry we toss it around like it is filled with a sad forever Like we’re just holding it for someone else or we didn’t ask for it to begin with, but it turns out that I am that love and I am here
We are here and maybe some of this love won’t come back to us, but tomorrow we will remind ourselves again to carry our hearts in our stomachs so that we can love from the gut and we will laugh again and I hope you will join us
“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.
To write about this day
to write about this week
to write a poem about this month
is such a bad idea
Poetry is to regale
What the hell
is this day?
Who am I to write it?
All regality is lost
along with touch
but at least there
Today, I dance knowing someone somewhere dances with me Us, cutting two different rugs that would look great together if given the chance to sync
This morning in the shower and the garden I sang off-key, but somehow it was in harmless harmony with someone somewhere else
This afternoon I wept as I did the dishes a tear disappeared into the soapy water but I know it will go to meet others it will add to the upright rivers and oceans weeping with me into their own dirty dishes and dirty laundry so much to clean so much time to do it
Tonight, I write this poem-song-biography by candlelight a group effort of somehow from a widespread orchestra of me and you and someone, everyone somewhere else
ODE TO THE DELIGHTFUL HEARTS OF THE VALLEY
An ekphrastic poem by Mighty 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. See and read about the mural here.
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 worry less about money
and to make laughter instead
I miss the folks
I have 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 still worry 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: light summer summer autumn 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
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