28 October 2009

Yellow Sky Blues and the Panic

Man looks up on a yellow sky
and the rain turns to rust in his eye
Rumours of his health are lies
Old England is dying

It wasn’t too different than any other Monday, but these days I can’t take that for granted…

The sunrise was grey through the blinds, weak and oyster. Sleep the night before was just this side of being okay, which for me is saying a lot. Sleep. An exotic locale that looks good in the brochures, but getting the money to travel is a different story. I shook it off, as I am wont to do and bootstrapped myself into another day.

His clothes are a dirty shade of blue
and his ancient shoes worn through
He steals from me and he lies to you
Old England is dying

I count my blessings when I get to see my daughter in the mornings, now. It is brief interludes of sanity preservation in between fits and starts of trying to ignore the pressure of self-dissatisfaction on one side and corporate obeisance on the other. No matter if she is trying my patience on chatting on about how she prefers her Cheerios without milk. The princess speaks, and I strain to listen, ignoring the sick betrayal of my workaday mind.

Still he sings an empire song
Still he keeps his navy strong
and sticks his flag where it ill belongs
Old England is dying

I’m numb to a lot of the commute, or getting that way I hope. Occasionally the old me rears his big noggin and barks out a curse at the stupids on the road, blind weak anger at the absurdity of sitting in traffic on the roads supposedly designed to make transit easier. It just doesn’t make sense sometimes. Well, most of the time. Aside from my daughter’s voice, music is one the few things in the world today that I take refuge in, find some space to breathe.

"You're asking what makes me sigh now
what it is makes me shudder so"
Well, I just freeze in the wind
and I'm numb from the pummeling of the snow
that falls from high in yellow skies…

There was a bit of a yellow sky that Monday, but not the kind of yellow that Mike Scott would be singing about later. I didn’t really think much about the difference when I sat down at my desk. Computer on, headphones alighting on my ears. The gnawing in my gut fluttered a bit, as if I had swallowed a sleepy bat. My hands trembled slightly as another workday began. Press the keys, and no one needs to know but me.

…where the well loved flag of England flies
where homes are warm and mothers sigh
where comedians laugh and babies cry
where criminals are televised, politicians fraternize
journalists are dignified and everyone is civilized
and children stare with heroin eyes
heroin eyes, heroin eyes
Old England !

The iPod was on shuffle, which seems is my modus operandi in the present. I’ve tried listening to albums in entirety, or groups of songs by the same artist, but…it wearies my ears, I have no way to explain why it just does. Too much, I guess, and it pushes me into impatience. A signal it may be of the diffracted and diffuse nature of my thoughts, a grayware cloud that won’t condense into rain. Until that Monday, when I had my first (near) panic attack in months. I say “near” because I’ve had some full-on panic attacks and the awfulness of those is unmistakable in its rapaciousness. This was not the same, but close. A half-brother to the real bastard itself. The memories it stirred up were unpleasant enough that I had no desire to repeat it.

Evening has fallen
The swans are singing
The last of sunday's bells is ringing
The wind in the trees is sighing
and old England is dying

I sat there, blinking, stunned, sweating and wondering what just happened. I think no one noticed the sudden bolt upright posture, the rapid breathing, the confused blinking as I tried to figure out what was happening. For once, I was glad of cubicle walls. It gave me a chance to recover gracefully. I tried not to think about the cause. On the drive home, it finally dawned on me, and I felt stupid and ashamed.

I know Mike Scott was singing about a different kind of empire when the Waterboys played in my headphones, the fading and troubled England that had lost its way when that song was written. But when I heard the lyrics Monday morning, I started thinking of the empire that used to be me, and how my borders have shrunken and my flag is flying low. I was overwhelmed by the fractures in my earth, and the losses incurred, and how it came to be.

*Lyrics used w/o permission, from “Old England” by The Waterboys. The version I’m diggin’ these days is a live take off of ‘The Best of The Waterboys, ’81-‘90’. I hope Mike Scott will forgive my impertinence, but that line about ‘rust in his eye’…damn, I wish I’d written that.


  1. 1. You're killing me with the Waterboys. Definitely part of my old life. 2. Shuffle is like a gift from the universe, it always knows what song to send you. 3. I'm glad your princess knows how to eat her cheerios.
    Hang in there, Gumby.

  2. Dude.

    I think you're faring most excellently, all things considered. Know that your on our hearts and we love you.

  3. Can you at least reach around and pat your back for writing through (and maybe because of) the pain?

    I think your borders are much larger than you imagine.

  4. After that I find myself unable to know exactly what to say. My analogy is different but I think the same too. The biggest difference between one who is sinking and one who is swimming is awareness. I think you're aware of the danger in the deep end and so you're floating and treading water.

    And eventually you get your feet around, you throw one arm up and then the other.

    And suddenly you swim.

  5. I could get lost in your writing. Love when you link up with lyrics.

  6. i could drown in your writing and go down with a smile :-)

    I love me some shuffle.....the contrast of george winston with the clash and whirling around to Deva Primal is fabulous juice for the engines!

  7. Love this, especially "as if I had swallowed a sleepy bat." You are so honest in your experiences, which is what makes your blog so lovely.

  8. And the Xanex was. . .Where????

    Keep it closer than your iPod, my friend. . . closer than your iPod. . .

  9. amazed, i am, every time.
    sometimes more than others.
    this is one of those times.
    you've outdone yourself.
    this one really strikes both hard and true.

  10. It's time for a coup. Out with the old and in with the new. Bloodless if possible, but it rarely is.

  11. I just wish I had been as aware as you of not always being in the moment with my kids. If I could go back to that time when life turned upside down (odd how the memory makes it seem like an event when the reality was a slow death), I would push my hurt to the side and just breath with my boys.

    You will weather through. Your priorities are right where they need to be.

  12. Damn I should be over here more often. You rite reel gud.

  13. Bravo, Mr. Gumbo! You really should be writing a book! You are so talented, cher! Excellent post!

  14. that was an amazing way to begin the day.

    you have a gift.

    And we are all reaping the benefits.

  15. Shuffle is the new rock'n'roll Irish!

    I remember getting it on with a lovely young filly and 'the whole of the moon' playing in the background!

    Now when I was a lad and everything was in black and white, you listened to an album in its entirety! There was none of this forwards, backwards and skip malarkey...those were the days. Albums covered in cigarette ash and you could leave your front door open!...ahhhhh.


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Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

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