Geist - - News - Stephen Smith

Boyos, it’s too calm to feed you

In the folk song, the ship is sail­ing away to sea, to sea, a-sail­ing away to the sea. Mean­while, on the wharf, she—at first, we only know her as she—is cry­ing out her heart as though it were bro­ken / tear­ing rags of her hair, for to send him with a to­ken.

Sounds painful. And yet as it turns out, the hair-pulling is re­ally no more than a ges­ture, the Grebe has al­ready slipped her lines and weighed out into the Gut, while on deck, at the taff­rail, I take one last look back, never to for­get her / al­ready on my way be­low to tell her in a let­ter.

That’s how it starts. For me, I don’t know, it all seems kind of rushed. Who are these peo­ple, and how old? Mar­ried or just sweet­hearts? Where are we, in what era? What’s the weather? But no, no time for that, the folksinger has his tempo to main­tain, and it’s a brisk one he’s got go­ing with his guitar, strum­ming lustily or maybe, bet­ter yet, stormily ahead. Br­rrrung-da-da-dung-dung-dung-dung-da.

I, of course, isn’t me. I hope that’s clear. Is it the folksinger him­self, singing out his own story? That’s what you kind of want to think. Would be nice. Would be eas­ier. If you look at the CD cover, too, the singer does have a mar­itime look about him, a nau­ti­cal hair­cut, plus those are lob­ster traps in the slightly out-of-fo­cus back­ground, I think. When you lis­ten to him singing, he does sound very per­son­ally in­volved, as if the hawsers he talks about haul­ing are looped around his own heart.

Gaz­ing back, never to for­get her / al­ready on my way be­low to tell her in a let­ter.

Big no-no, of course, be­cause—do I even have to say this?—the ship hasn’t even passed the har­bour light and you’re down writ­ing let­ters? Cap­tain Eli is a fair man, for­giv­ing, has been in love him­self, but even so, duty is duty. Un­for­tu­nately for I, it’s the mate who sees him go­ing be­low, Clem, a shifty bas­tard, a bully and a schemer, al­ways with an eye out for tak­ing ad­van­tage. His price for keep­ing quiet? An IOU that I is quick to sign—ac­tu­ally thanks his black­mailer, apol­o­gizes: won’t hap­pen again. Up on deck again, haul­ing away, away, haul away me boys, away, it’s hard for I to be­lieve his luck, could have been so much worse. Though of course it’s just then, as Grebe makes open sea, that the cook comes on deck to say, fel­las, it’s too rough to feed you.

Ho boy.

Drums thun­der where, be­fore, no drums thun­dered. I guess they must have been there with the folksinger in the stu­dio the whole time—ob­vi­ously—but still, they come as a sur­prise. My guitar—the guitar of I—sug­gests strength­en­ing winds. Some­where a tin whis­tle be­gins to trill. All

hands on deck! Heave away! Even the seabirds are try­ing to get out of the storm’s way, pe­trels and gan­nets and scaups flee­ing the low­er­ing clouds. Like those birds, Cap­tain Eli means to out­run the storm. The Grebe piles on sail.

The folksinger says—sings—he sings thems and thars and ain’ts. It sounds okay. It doesn’t sound forced. Them lone­some clouds, over thar, be blowin’/ ain’t no cure for no big green ocean.

Mean­ing the North At­lantic, of course. Ob­vi­ously. Is any­body else in­ter­ested in where, specif­i­cally, we’re talk­ing about here? The horse lat­i­tudes is my hunch, the calms of Can­cer. I’m a bit of a de­tails man, I guess, not to men­tion (also) a map man.

A sec­ond guitar joins in here, briefly, with what you might call a Span­ish sig­na­ture—sug­gest­ing, maybe, that the Grebe has set course for south­ern seas? Could just be that it sounds great, though, span­ish­ing along.

’Twas a witch in the wind

And she spake with a poi­sonous tem­per

Cap’n Eli stood up strong,

Ad­vised she was wrong,

Told her, hurry back to hell, that Novem­ber.

The cook, mean­time, comes back:

Fel­las, he says, it’s been good to know you.

Which seems kind of un­nec­es­sary—un­called for. With all the hands on deck, it’s lost on no one that Cookie is the only one not even to be pre­tend­ing to rush around in the ef­fort to speed the ship from dan­ger. And as far as feed­ing goes, what about sand­wiches? When is it ever too rough for sand­wiches? Wouldn’t a cook worth his sea salt have pre­pared sand­wiches at the first whiff of foul weather for later dis­tri­bu­tion, maybe some trail mix and, you know, car­rot sticks? You can see how the men, strug­gling at their work, sav­ing Cookie’s skin as much as their own, would be strongly peeved. Talk about dis­ap­point­ing—talk about unprofessional.

Mean­while, back at home, she’s weep­ing all the time. She as in Her—i’s sweet­heart, whose name we won’t know for a few more bars yet is Les­lie. From the sound of it, she hasn’t left the wharf since the Grebe dis­ap­peared over the hori­zon, at least not for long, maybe a few quick trips home to shower, rest up ahead of the next bout of sor­row­ing.

Peo­ple do their best to con­sole her though it’s easy to tell, just from the sheer volume of the weep­ing she’s do­ing, that now’s not the time for con­so­la­tions. The tears and the vodka are, in a word, vo­lu­mi­nous. From the sounds of it, read­ing be­tween the folk-song lines, the weep­ing sounds more like full-on wail­ing, and while there’s noth­ing ex­plicit to in­di­cate just how dis­tress­ing the sound of her tor­ren­tial grief is for the peo­ple of the town to hear, we do know that there’s a gen­eral con­cern abroad re­gard­ing how no­body feels all that com­fort­able go­ing down to the wharf now, due to the at­mos­phere of tor­ment, and the on­go­ing rend­ing of gar­ments, hair, etc., not to men­tion ev­ery time she fin­ishes a bot­tle of vodka, she smashes it on the stones of the break­wa­ter.

Les­lie, peo­ple say, please! Get a grip! Well, that’s what they mut­ter. Mostly what the peo­ple do is keep their dis­tance, pre­tend not to see, even though of course they do see, from their re­move, over­com­ing their born re­luc­tance to stare—that’s the kind of town it is, very but­toned up, no big shows of emo­tions, it’s not as though there’s any by­law against them, but there may as well be, any com­plain­ing or crit­i­ciz­ing the peo­ple do is be­hind closed doors, a sob-sti­fling hand held to the mouth, eyes averted, there’s noth­ing they hate in this town so much as a fuss. They worry about Les­lie scar­ing off what­ever tourists might hap­pen by, not that many ever do, be­cause who wants to visit a cod-smelling but­toned-up seag­ull­rid­den smug­glers’ hideaway where the fish­ery is dy­ing and women lie weep­ing by the hair-be­strewn break­wa­ter that’s lit­tered with the glass of smashed Ab­so­lut bot­tles? The peo­ple don’t want to go down there, so why would a tourist? Es­pe­cially if that tourist hap­pens to have seen their own love sail away to sea, and wailed, and soaked them­self in vodka, be­fore pulling them­self to­gether and go­ing on va­ca­tion—only to have their sor­row hurled back in their face as they step off the bus.

Are they jeal­ous? The peo­ple—of Les­lie. They have al­ways been a lit­tle in awe of her, her poise and beauty, her easy smile, her per­fect nose, straight pos­ture. Les­lie’s hair is fan­tas­tic, and her smile has a ra­di­ance be­yond any­thing an oil paint­ing could de­pict, let alone a mere folksinger. So no­body is too sur­prised when her grief out­strips any of the grief they’ve known in the town, or have felt them­selves.

So, yes, there’s re­sent­ment. It seems so easy for Les­lie, ev­ery­thing does, al­ways has. If only she didn’t take ev­ery­thing for granted the way she does. Ex­am­ple: peo­ple are happy to bring her more vodka, and do, that’s what neigh­bours are for—but a thank you would be nice. Would go such a long way. Could she at least of­fer to pay? A few cop­pers for the vodka fund? As a ges­ture? Or you know what would be a good enough ges­ture—not smash­ing the emp­ties on the wharf so that some­body not so awe­some as Les­lie could re­turn them for the de­posit.

Br­rrrung-da-da-dung, da-da-da-da-dung-da.

There's a bunch that goes un­said in the fold song symp­toms and yearn­ings, night fears, morn­ing re­lief.

There’s a bunch that goes un­said in the folk song: symp­toms and yearn­ings, night fears, morn­ing re­lief. Meals? There are next to no men­tions of meals. There’s a lot of down­time that doesn’t find its way into folk songs gen­er­ally, this one and all the rest, be­cause if you in­cluded all the down­time, how long a folk song would that be? Also rou­tinely left out of nau­ti­cal folk songs in par­tic­u­lar: all the St. Elmo’s fire; most of the live­lier de­scrip­tions of the Sar­gasso Sea; many anec­dotes in­volv­ing bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence.

In I’s case, the folk song has al­most noth­ing to say about the study­ing he’s do­ing for his mate’s ex­ams. Fair enough— you’d have to be a pretty con­fi­dent folksinger to tarry long in a stu­dious aside. I is a slow and open-mouthed reader, we do learn, and draws a fin­ger across the words on the page as he goes, as though to smudge them into ac­tion. He drools, just a bit, in his con­cen­tra­tion, and when he doesn’t un­der­stand some­thing, hums. That’s about it, though, as far as men­tions of I’s ex­ams: mostly his study is silent.

The cook comes on deck to say, boyos, it’s too calm to feed you. Back home, other than the mess on the wharf and the wail­ing, peo­ple talk about what they’ve al­ways talked re: Les­lie, i.e. how did she ever end up with I in the first place? Noth­ing per­sonal, ev­ery­body in the town likes him well enough, it’s with noth­ing but re­spect and fond­ness that they agree that Les­lie was—is—never wasn’t—way, way out of I’s league.

Even his friends say so, if only among them­selves. In the folk song, they tell Les­lie that if there’s any­thing they can do—that she needs—any­thing, all she has to do is call. Any­time. Din­ner, say. She has to eat. What about din­ner? Noth­ing fancy. What about Francesca’s? Ever been to Francesca’s? Pick you up around 8?

Not in­ter­ested. All Les­lie needs right at the mo­ment is maybe a lit­tle more ice for her vodka. I’s friends don’t need to be told twice to leave her alone, es­pe­cially af­ter Corey, I’s best friend, cuts his knee on the glass down at the wail­ing wharf.

Drum solo: tkkkka-tkk-tkk, tkk-tkkkka-tkk.

Far away, I swabs the deck he should be holyston­ing, a mis­take that will soon land him in trou­ble with Clem, again. As he swabs, he starts on an­other let­ter to his love, in his head he writes his let­ters, never re­ally stops, it’s how he holds on to Les­lie, al­ways with the draft­ing and the re-draft­ing of let­ters such that, when the time comes to sit down by the light of a gut­ter­ing oil lamp be­low, it’s as if they’re spilling through his arm, into his pen, out onto the pa­per.

Al­ways writ­ing let­ters in his head is how he gets his rep­u­ta­tion as a dreamer, ab­sent in his mind, prob­a­bly he hit his head on a spar, or fell out of the rig­ging, that’s what the crew de­cides, ei­ther way, best to yell at him if you’re try­ing to get his at­ten­tion. Clem leads the pack on this, which is to say, the yelling; be­cause he’s in charge of the mail, he’s also the one who over­sees the sys­tem­atic open­ing and read­ing of I’s let­ters. He’s a snooper, plain and sim­ple: he reads the mail be­cause he can, ex­tract­ing money and keepsakes.

It’s here, just about half­way through the folk song, that I gets the ter­ri­ble news: Les­lie is dead. What? Dead dead? It’s a ham­mer to the heart, of course, or (as the folksinger puts it) a dag­ger forged of ice. His voice cracks and, if you lis­ten closely, you can just hear a guitar string snap­ping from pure des­o­la­tion. He feels like he’s fall­ing, like he’s drown­ing, turn­ing, burn­ing, jabbed by a thou­sand nee­dles. It’s un­clear, in the folk song, how the news reaches him at sea, the Grebe not hav­ing seen a shore (and vice versa) in months. Maybe a friendly ship pass­ing by re­ports the news, or is it con­veyed by a brave long-range courier puf­fin—or on the free­lance wind? Doesn’t mat­ter. I lies in the scup­pers, try­ing to find one breath amid the sobs, sluiced by waves, de­spised by gulls.

It’s at about this same time that word reaches Les­lie that I is lost at sea. Washed over­board, struck down by scurvy, swal­lowed by a black squid, died with all his ship­mates in a reef-wreck? No­body knows. Doesn’t mat­ter. Doesn’t change any­thing. She’s stunned. She’s out with Dy­lan at the time, not a real es­tate agent so much (he says) as a man­ager of real es­tate agents. A man with a black turtle­neck and a tidy beard. A good if not great kisser. As first dates go, this one’s go­ing fine. Dy­lan is a fan­tas­tic cook who’s in­vited her over for home­made pizza fol­lowed by, af­ter din­ner, a spell in his lit­tle back gar­den.

Ad­mir­ing Les­lie’s laugh-lines, he won­ders whether he might be per­mit­ted to touch them. That’s when she gets the stun­ning news about I, right then, some­how. “Take a minute,” Dy­lan says. Things are speed­ing up, now: it’s no more than a few min­utes later that Dy­lan’s wife gets home, Rhonda. Oh, no! Hard to say whose dis­tress is stronger, hers or Les­lie’s, but they’re both ex­tremely dis­tressed. What a scene. Dy­lan churches his fin­gers and backs away slowly down the gar­den. “Sorry about your feller,” Rhonda tells Les­lie with a grave dig­nity when the women are stand­ing there by them­selves.

“Don’t mind if I do,” says Les­lie, just to be say­ing some­thing.

It can be tricky, for a folksinger, to con­vey the pas­sage of time. There are those who, hear­ing the folk song, get the wrong im­pres­sion about this next part, where Les­lie and Rhonda both ditch Dy­lan, Les­lie re­fo­cuses, lets her hair grow long, takes up fenc­ing, ap­plies to busi­ness school, does some hospice vol­un­teer­ing, gets into biz school, packs up, leaves town all in the space of a week—but no, wrong. It’s months that pass. She feels good, health­ier: the last we hear, in the folk song, Les­lie is do­ing just great, with new blonde high­lights, and talk­ing about maybe train­ing for a half-marathon.

Iwan­ders up steep streets that wind back on one an­other in the town he doesn’t re­mem­ber com­ing to. The houses are steep, too, lean in, loom. It’s hard to see the sky. Brown rain surges in the gut­ters. The cob­ble­stones slip un­der his boots. How did he get here? What hap­pened to the Grebe? Whose very dan­ger­ous boots are these? He tries to write a let­ter in his head but it’s no good, the words won’t sit, they jump and jar, sink, dis­solve. For a just a mo­ment he can see Les­lie’s name though he can’t speak it. Then: gone.

He sleeps in a hedge. Come the damp morn­ing, an old tar passes by with a peg leg and a tote bag filled with li­brary books, takes pity, helps I to his feet, shep­herds him to a lit­tle sea­man’s tav­ern down by the Cus­tom House where he can get a feed and a drink and a talk­ing-to from the innkeep about shed­ding old skin, head­ing for new hori­zons. No­body knows any­thing about Cap­tain Eli or the Grebe, but that’s okay, he takes a job sweep­ing up at the tav­ern—a sweep­ing-up job. It doesn’t last. At first he’s drink­ing only while he’s sweep­ing, tiny re­fresh­ing sips of what­ever’s at hand, sherry, old beer, but that doesn’t re­ally work, it makes for un­sat­is­fy­ing sweep­ing and drink­ing. In what he later will de­scribe to a bi­og­ra­pher as an epiphany, the recipe for what the rest of us know and en­joy as a bull­shot comes to him, and that’s when he re­ally starts to drink, plus the amount he’s drink­ing com­bined with the need­ing to brew up new drinks means that he’s not meet­ing any of his sweep­ing dead­lines. It would be dif­fer­ent if his drink were, say, vodka, but he’s picky, will only drink bull­shots of his own de­vis­ing, it’s re­ally more of a soup than a cocktail, a boozy beef soup with a salted rim that he trusts no one but him­self to con­coct. The devil, he likes to say, is in the sea­son­ing.

He’s sup­posed to reg­is­ter with the po­lice. There’s some good rea­son for that, Lyle at the Yar­darm Inn ex­plains it to him, but due to the depths of his dis­tress and drunk­en­ness, I doesn’t take it in, fails to re­port, which makes him a wanted man in these parts—a change, at least, he tells his mis­er­able self, from all those months of no one car­ing whether he lived or didn’t.

He thinks about hurl­ing him­self into the ocean, un­der a tram, from the roof of the Yar­darm, doesn’t, can’t quite, what he does in­stead is he keeps drink­ing un­til he can drink no more, drinks to for­get, drunk with re­gret, lost ev­ery­thing I had, noth­ing good you can say when it’s all gone so bad.

He starts to wan­der, and the wan­der­ing takes up a lot of the night. Down at the docks, where he’s well known for his very spe­cific beg­ging, no one can spare the all­spice he’s af­ter, the cel­ery. Can’t, won’t—don’t. He doesn’t de­spair. Ly­ing in muck, lis­ten­ing to wind, watch­ing sky, he feels … not so bad.

It’s while laid out by the curb that I dis­cov­ers, deep down in a pocket, a re­view book­let for the mate’s exam that once seemed so im­per­a­tive. Later, test­ing him­self with quiz ques­tions, he falls in love with a mer­maid. That’s a part of the folk song that ac­tu­ally would be worth­while flesh­ing out, but the folksinger doesn’t seem too in­ter­ested, or doesn’t want to slow down the mo­men­tum he’s built up, though it’s here, right in the mid­dle of the verse, that the folksinger does clear his throat with a thick roar that many peo­ple find au­then­tic even if it puts off an equal or slightly larger seg­ment of folk­song fans. What we can glean is that the mer­maid, whose name is prob­a­bly Erin though pos­si­bly Mar­ian, is vi­va­cious and soul­ful, a heavy smoker, a sin­gle mother, a tough bird. She doesn’t back down. She’s been around the block and back again, had her heart scorched, in and out of mar­riages, worked ten dif­fer­ent jobs be­fore she scraped to­gether the money to buy the sou­venir stand.

Wow, I thinks the first time he sees her. She has long red hair and lep­toid scales, which, she ex­plains, are highly un­usual: most of her kind (she says) have the pla­coid scal­ing of sharks and rays. I smiles, Oh, yes, he nods, Uh huh. Erin is sur­prised. Most of the men she meets are in­ter­ested in one thing only, and it’s not the finer points of ma­rine bi­ol­ogy.

I laughs. That feels good. Dif­fer­ent, strange, new. Think­ing about laugh­ter, he misses most of what Erin says about ap­ply­ing for a li­cence, some kind of … snack li­cence? She wants to be sell­ing snacks to the sou­venir crowd and pos­si­bly … beer and cool­ers? I nods. That feels al­most as good as the laugh­ing.

Trou­ble is brew­ing. This is some­where else, miles away, on yet an­other for­eign shore, in a lit­tle coastal town. Sta­vanger’s cramped postal of­fice is re­ally no more than a cor­ner carved out of a busy phar­macy, so it’s a real fight, ev­ery day, for the post­mas­ter to as­sert his right to be there, which is maybe why they call him Tiger. He’s not a sus­pi­cious sort, or prone to per­se­cu­tion fan­tasies, but in the morn­ing it’s not just that the pre­scrip­tions crowd his space like armies of oc­cu­pa­tion, the phar­ma­cists def­i­nitely try­ing to screw with him with all those sug­ges­tive anti-psy­chotic pills they leave lit­tered around, the oint­ments for em­bar­rass­ing rashes and sex­ual sores.

He does his best to carry on, but he can feel him­self start­ing to doubt him­self, does he still have what it takes to be post­mas­ter­ing, for ex­am­ple, all of these dozens of ragged let­ters that have come in ad­dressed to Ms. Les­lie Daf­forn, not one of them suf­fi­ciently stamped, re­ally he’d be within his rights to toss them in the stove, why hasn’t he, what’s wrong with him, is it pos­si­ble that he’s los­ing his groove?

He keeps them, takes them home. Let’s be clear that Tiger is no saint, not one of those benev­o­lent old codgers you some­times run across in sto­ries who rec­og­nize the signs of true love when they see a pile of let­ters and, when they have no ad­dress, un­der­take to see them to their des­ti­na­tion what­ever the cost. Let’s say, in­stead, that Tiger is a prac­ti­cal man, a har­ried re­al­ist with a headache who

nor­mally wouldn’t dream of break­ing the sa­cred postal code of never open­ing some­one’s let­ter ex­cept for the morn­ing, one morn­ing, when he strays.

He can’t get out of bed, is how it starts. The pills he’s car­ried home with I’s let­ters are pow­dery blue and dry­tast­ing and prob­a­bly down­ing ten of them at once isn’t the wis­est thing, not to men­tion he al­most chokes and is in­stantly very hun­gry and un­able to hold his point of view, which slips out of his body and rises up to the top of a high cup­board and looks down on him­self as he reads one af­ter an­other of I’s messy pages telling Les­lie how much she’s missed, loved, the only one whose hand he wants to hold, whole para­graphs telling her about her own hair and skin.

Tiger laughs. He feels re­laxed and cher­ished. His fear of heights is old his­tory, for­got­ten. He wills him­self up, high and higher, un­til he’s spi­der­ing his fin­gers along the ceil­ing. As the cho­rus comes up again, it seems like he may have melded, merged, be­come one with I. I’m not here to ex­plain it. All I can say is that this is the part of the folk song where some lis­ten­ers lose their way and, so to say, aban­don ship, com­plain­ing later of con­fu­sion and dis­ori­en­ta­tion, of queasi­ness and even woozi­ness, of hav­ing to lean their heads down be­tween their knees, as if they them­selves have gulped too many dusty blue pills, suf­fer­ing a re­ac­tion not un­like the one Tiger/i ex­pe­ri­ences with the lofty laugh­ing and the re­lax­ing and the trans­mo­gri­fy­ing. Those of them who de­mand a re­fund on the down­load do so with max­i­mum ir­ri­ta­tion.

A cou­ple of fast chord changes, knuck­les rap­ping out a beat on sound­board: that’s all it takes to get us back aboard the Grebe. She’s ly­ing quiet, be­calmed, sun bak­ing the lines, her shrouded sails. I’m able to guide my­self down to the deck with lit­tle pad­dles of hands: down, down, down. Cap­tain Eli is pleased to see me, or at least—it may be that I’ve been telling a funny story. It’s clear—i be­come aware—that I’ve been pro­moted. It’s Mr. Mate and Lieu­tenant, sir, though I don’t know that I sat my ex­ams, let alone passed them. They come to me, too, for Bi­ble ad­vice, the men do, that seems to me to be a role I’ve been cast into, where to start, they ask, what’s the best part, how does it end? I tell them, and they tell me the ship’s news, fill in my gaps, which are many. I make my peace with Clem, who apol­o­gizes if he was a bully. He’s a dif­fer­ent man now, has been ever since Cookie died.

This is a dis­ap­point­ing part of the folk song where you think, Oh, no. Be­cause—well, it can’t end like this, can it? I’m start­ing to flag. You can hear me fal­ter, my voice has thinned, I’m hold­ing my words a beat too long. The guitar, too, sounds weary, un­cer­tain. Maybe a folk song was the wrong kind of song to have started to sing. Maybe a protest song would have been bet­ter, rail­ing—a cap­pella?—at ev­ery­thing that’s wrong with folk songs. Or else the blues, the folk­song blues, oh, Lord, got ’em bad.

A man­dolin plinks, evok­ing rain that’s start­ing to fall or else maybe some­body creep­ing on tip­toe. Is that the right verb for a man­dolin play­ing? I don’t know. I won­der. Starts to … stroll? Plod? Can­ter isn’t right. The notes sound lonely and cold, Oc­to­bery … plink­ing. So, so tired. What’s a body godda do to get a nighta rest in this life? A real, non-shrub­bery rest. I’m at the end of my rope, if not of the song it­self. I don’t know. Do I care? If I’ve lost the will to go on, when did I lose it? Do I want it back? Even more im­por­tant, this let­ter I’m hold­ing in my hand—where did that come from?

Has Les­lie heard about Erin? That’s a big dread that’s been hang­ing over me that now seems to be drop­ping down, threat­en­ing to crush me, but no, there’s noth­ing in the let­ter ac­cus­ing me of cheat­ing on her with mer­maids. I think it’s from Les­lie—must be. It’s one of those let­ters that never re­ally gets around to its point, and I avoid read­ing be­tween the lines as much as pos­si­ble. The pages are thin, frail, and the lines of ink seem to be pal­ing as I’m try­ing to read them. It’s not easy to do, with a guitar in hand. The words are writ­ten big and, as best I can make out, they’re good words, fond­ness is one and there’s marsh and marigold and also God­speed, but there’s some­thing else too in those para­graphs that feels like re­sis­tance, a fight be­ing put up, plus it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen a let­ter, I’m out of prac­tice: my eyes wa­ter.

My heart is too full. Or … not full enough. Ei­ther way, I can feel its whole weight in my chest, all its sharp­nesses, and minute twitches and squeez­ings.

In the folk song, right at the end, the but­tons on the sleeve of my sport­coat knock on the guitar as I play, clumsy per­cus­sion that makes me play faster. There’s a dog that strays into the ses­sion here, too, you can hear it in the back­ground shak­ing off its swim near one of the stand­ing mi­cro­phones. Peo­ple al­ways ask me, now, whose dog is that you can hear in the folk song, in the back­ground, and what’s his name? I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of peo­ple’s pets in the stu­dio, so I’m prob­a­bly not the per­son to ask. I have no idea why they left it in the mix. Stephen Smith is a some­time con­trib­u­tor to Mc­sweeney’s, Cana­dian Ge­o­graphic and the New York Times, as well as the au­thor of the book Puck­struck: Dis­tracted, De­lighted, and Dis­tressed by Canada’s Hockey Ob­ses­sion (Grey­stone, 2014). He lives in Toronto.

I lies in the scup­pers, try­ing to find one breath amid the sobs, sluiced by waves, de­spised by gulls.

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