1934 – 2016
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen – Anthem
Leonard Cohen always thought of himself as a humble poet. His first collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published in 1956. Book of Mercy won the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry. He was reading his poems in Greenwich Village cafes and YMCA’s when friends such as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith encouraged him to put his words to music. Because of their insight and understanding about how poetry can best reach out to modern culture I first heard his singular voice, at once gravelly and harmonic, in my sophomore year in high school.
Leonard’s transcendent verses exemplify that song writing can be a practice – as redemptive as prayer. Thank you Leonard, for the legacy of your generous body of work, your golden voice, and, personally, for your lifelong inspiration to me, to not only write from a place so true that it becomes holy, but to encourage young writers to express themselves through the written word.
Below is an essay from Santa Monica Chronicles – an autobiographical work in progress.
Among the Garbage and the Flowers
In the summer of my fifteenth year my mother said that times were hard with my father out of work and I was old enough to get a summer job. I had no idea why or what it was for, or even exactly what “social” meant, but I had to have a Social Security card in order to get a real job. She took me a long way on the bus to a government building where we waited on metal chairs next to a machine that made coffee one cup at a time, pouring in just the right amount of sugar and creamer. I had read in a book that artists in Paris always drink black espresso in intimate cafes, so that’s what I pretended to do, even though the room was painted a morose kind of dirty green and the coffee was watery, weak and in a Styrofoam cup. When my full name was called it startled me like being caught daydreaming in school. The man behind the counter handed me a card with numbers typed between two Greek columns. I had to sign it and keep it forever.
It was my first day of work. Sparse fluorescents lit the almost empty interior of the high ceilinged warehouse. All was concrete and leaden, the only color in the room being from the day glo clothes of three other workers who glanced at me disdainfully. They looked only slightly older than me, but wore lots of make up, so it was difficult to guess their ages. I was placed, standing, at a table near them. “You take the plastic stick from here, see? And you put this roller on it, that’s right, push it right in…then you dip the roller in this liquid and lay it on the rack to dry. Got it?”
I did this for a while, careful to be fastidious, thinking that this must be what real jobs are like, until I was told that it was time for my break. I was shown the employee lounge. The vinyl sofa was torn and repaired with dull brown electrical tape. I had no idea what to do in there so I decided to go outside. Near the back of the main floor was a heavy door that said EXIT. I pushed it open and walked into a tangle of yellow mustard up to my knees. Climbing roses, lavender and honeysuckle grew wild in a meager space surrounded on all sides by worn brick buildings. I found a discarded wooden box and sat down. The strange garden was littered with broken bottles that glinted through the weeds. Gum and candy bar wrappings so faded from the sun that you couldn’t read the writing on them fluttered like butterflies. A wind turbine spun on the roof of the building next door and above it all burned a rectangle of silver blue sky.
I took off my shoes and, being careful to avoid the shards of glass, walked through a patch of clover still wet from the morning dew. I began to sing, and my voice sounded high and clear and pure, “And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers…” It was a new song I had just heard on the radio. I wished that I could remember all the beautiful words that somehow were sad words, too. I stood there for a long time just singing that same line about the garbage and the flowers over and over until someone came out and told me that my break was over.