Let’s make this holiday holy:
a baby pumpkin king, a messiah
with arms stretched into bat wings,
wise witches and skeleton saints.
Let’s talk about painted leaves and how
they crunch under our boots and tennis shoes.
Let’s talk about how we hate corporate coffeehouses,
then steal away to take pumpkin spice communion alone.
Let’s breathe the cinnamon breaths of October
until our lungs are full of ash and hope
for the ghosts of another season.
Remembering Doug Cravens
March 8, 1947 – June 15, 2015
“What’re you reading?” The bartender nodded at the anthology on the bar.
I told her about the collection of stories and songs by Nashville artists I had with me, and that led to talk about short fiction and a local writer whose work she enjoyed. Then she mentioned she really liked Kurt Vonnegut. When I told her I was a fan as well, she showed me three arm tattoos based on Vonnegut drawings: Kilgore Trout, the infamous asterisk, and a tombstone with the epitaph “Life is no way to treat an animal.” I told her how I had recently chalked “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt” on a midnight sidewalk.
After a few minutes, our conversation fragmented as the bar grew more frenetic. The room heated up as it filled to capacity with drinkers and diners looking for a seat. A college student in a summer dress sang “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” behind the chatter of food and drink orders. As the scene around me ramped up to a dinner hour dance of customers and staff, I reflected on the day.
A few hours earlier I had learned Doug Cravens—the father of my longtime friend and brother, Brian—had passed away the day before. Doug was more than just a friend’s father; he was family to me. Many of my best memories from the last two decades are scenes with the extended family I came to know through Brian, and Doug is right there in every single one. He always welcomed me, along with the rest of the family, into his life and home with open arms, a top shelf drink, and conversation.
Those conversations are some of my favorite memories. No time or place was wrong for digging into a topic. There was the night in Las Vegas, during Brian’s bachelor party, when Doug and I discussed the interior design of a club while dancers in various states of undress swayed and grinded on retro-cushy chairs around us. At any party, in the middle of the room or off to the side, he could engage you in an exchange that made you forget you needed to refill your drink. Any topic was fair game, but I had favorites.
I loved Doug’s passion for mixology, which he shared with Brian. On more than one occasion I survived the hell-breath of Mesa in summer only because pretty, delicious drinks were floated to me as I submerged everything but my desert-broiled face and head into the refuge of pool water. Doug and Brian collaborated and concocted those drinks with the focus and drive of alchemists. A variation on Hemingway’s mojito, a parade of rum and coconut drinks I can’t name now—they all came to me like nectar from heaven on a blue serving floatie set adrift from the shallow end.
Doug also loved to talk music, especially Brian’s. I saw the promoter, advocate, fan, and voice of reason and enthusiasm he was when it came to all of Brian’s creative pursuits. It was powerful and inspiring to behold, especially as someone who has never known a father. I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of Brian’s music, and to share mine in that realm, and Doug extended his passion and support to my efforts as well.
Another popular topic was literature. An avid reader, Doug was always ready to talk authors and recommend favorite works. He even made a reading list for me. It only takes one walk into his library to realize the love he had for the written word. It’s a room with walls made of books—a beautiful thing. Doug didn’t only read famous authors. He took the time to read some of my work and was always encouraging, up to the last time I saw him. He made me feel like I had something to say.
But I associate one author with Doug more than others. Some of the first book conversations we had years ago were about Kurt Vonnegut. Remembering other exchanges through the years, I don’t think Doug remained as much a fan as I have. But those early discussions aligned with a moment in time and space when my soul and mind were ready for a Vonnegut phase. Those conversations made me want to read more of Vonnegut’s work. And they made me want to write.
Sometimes it takes a while for me to catch up to the messages the universe drops for me here and there, the moments that align symbolically and significantly. I suppose I’m unstuck in time at times. But the Vonnegut tattoo bar moment came together for me before my first bite of hot chicken that night.
It was a nod from the ether, an opportunity for quiet reflection at a noisy restaurant bar. A fleeting, literary memorial for a man who lived life as passionately as any character in the novels lining his library walls. It was a cosmic pool drink floated to me from the other side, where I’m certain books hang from trees which hum with the music of all our scenes, past and future.
Chuck Beard is an unparalleled supporter of the written word, music, and art in Nashville, Tennessee and beyond. In addition to owning East Side Story bookstore in East Nashville, he twice monthly hosts a live show called East Side Storytellin’, which features a writer and musician or band.
Last week, on Cinco de Mayo, I had the honor of sharing some of my words on the same show that featured Lilly Hiatt, a stellar songwriter and singer who inhabits a musical realm of Nashville not always immediately noticed by tourists and Music City enthusiasts. It’s a place I call home—sonically, lyrically, and otherwise. Chuck has a real talent for pairing just the right artists for these shows. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to share the spotlight with Lilly.
Much thanks to Chuck and everyone for the opportunity to be part of such a great event. I had an absolute blast. The only nod to the victory at Puebla was a pitcher of margaritas courtesy of Emily Beard, but other victories were celebrated—namely the sharing of words, music, and friendship.
Here’s a link to a very nice recap written by Chuck, which includes a link to the recording of the show:
The next East Side Storytellin’ is on Tuesday, May 19, at 7 PM at The Post East and features writer Matthew Leavitt Brown and musician Dewveall. Check it out! You and your artist soul will be glad you did.
As Christmas lights blossomed around the city and classic holiday songs conquered satellites and airwaves much too soon, it occurred to me that many of my poems include references to Christmas imagery and ideas. That revelation birthed an idea: a small holiday collection of my poems. At first, the plan was to just gather a few pieces on my blog. Then I thought, “Maybe audio versions.” That lead to experimenting with accompanying sound and music. After a few days of recording and editing on my phone and netbook, I had this:
I had a lot of fun putting this together. I hope you enjoy.
As my dear friend and fellow poet, Jamie Givens, continues her journey with breast cancer, several supportive efforts have been initiated by the many people whose lives her spirit has touched. Some of you may be aware, but Jamie owns a licensed massage therapy practice and, while she continues to work, maintaining such a business will only become more challenging through the months ahead with surgery and continuing treatment. With that in mind, anything you can do to help out is greatly appreciated.
I’ve included an email below from another of Jamie’s friends, Anke Nowicki, outlining several options for providing assistance during this time. Also, a benefit concert has been organized by Kent Blazy. The show is from 6 to 8 PM on December 6th at Douglas Corner. Please see the flyer at the right. Do you have an idea not listed here? Please let us know.
Thank you in advance for anything you’re able to do to help our friend through this challenging time and much appreciation to those who have already provided support. Thank you to Anke for all of her efforts and for organizing and sending this email.
We are so often profoundly touched by the unexpected challenges life brings us and those we care about. Many of us have been blessed to have Jamie Givens, a vibrant, talented, and compassionate woman in our lives, who now faces such an experience. Many of you have also expressed a desire to be supportive during this very challenging time for Jamie. There are many ways to contribute to the web of care and love that is weaving itself together.
A bank account has been set up, and donations for Jamie can be deposited at any Sun Trust branch. Simply ask the teller to look up the account. They can also be mailed to the following bank address, in care of:
Sun Trust Bank
4604 Charlotte Pike
Nashville, TN 37209
In the event that you encounter a problem, you could contact Rhonda Rutherford, the bank officer that set the account up, at 615-279-4033. You could also contact Holly Waldrop, who helped Jamie with this project, by e-mailing her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is most needed at this time is a core group of friends that would be willing to pledge a monthly amount for the next 6 months to cover the most critical expenses, and allow Jamie a deeper ability to relax and focus on her healing. If you are interested in pledging, please let me know as soon as possible by responding to this e-mail:
Some friends have put their heads together and come up with some other suggestions below:
A. Jamie gets a weekly food delivery from an amazing organization called The Heimerdinger Foundation. Food is donated from local farms, farmers markets, and grocery stores. Under the guidance of adult mentor chefs, teens volunteer in the kitchen and prepare beautiful, delicious, and nourishing meals for people dealing with serious illness. You could call this organization and talk to them about taking on some of her weekly food delivery fees.
Contact for Meals 2 Heal Program: 615-241-0246
B. Jamie is doing a lot of juicing these days. You might consider Gift Certificates for grocery stores (Publics, Whole Foods, Kroger, The Turnip Truck). You can call in a gift card at The Turnip Truck and Jamie can pick it up:
615- 650-3600 for 970 Woodland Street location… or… 615-248-2000 for 321 12th Avenue location.
C. Gift cards for gas. Gift Cards could be sent to Jamie directly:
521 Belle Pointe Court
Nashville, TN 37221
Jamie’s friends include a very creative community. The poetry community is already selling T-Shirts and the proceeds will be donated to her.
Contact Chance Chambers at email@example.com/615-480-0971 or MAP (Michael Alan Pierce) at 615-593-3355.
If anyone else has any suggestions about fund raising, perhaps through a benefit performance, please let me know. Those of us in the therapeutic community could consider asking a client to make their check out to Jamie instead, as a way for us to contribute.
All your ideas and efforts are deeply appreciated. Thank you all for every act of compassionate giving.
Love and Blessings,
Autumn hits like a shower
of jagged stained glass
leaves on my yesterday
skin as I worship
in the temple of cocktails
that should all be named Sunday,
because that’s how they taste.
She tasted like Saturday
and three, but that’s a summer
as gone as the droning
tube amp riffs of E-minor
drives between life
flight chopper kisses
and curbside indecision.
This season both kills
and lifts me with its betta
fish pageants, Rat Patrol
League of Hipster Justice,
and echoes of the eight minute
thirty-seven second version
of “Susie Q” escaping a tap
room as a harvest moon
reflects the sepia
of all my bad
Save me, Minnie Riperton. I’ll kiss
your petals. I’ll pretend it’s 1970
when the horns raise the chorus
to a weary midtown night. Save
me as if I can be saved and baptize
me in a tall pour of Japanese whisky,
because that tastes like tomorrow.