Thursday, March 23, 2006

Poetry Thursday - First Love

About six years ago, when I really started to slather myself with the deliciousness of poetry, I purchased a book in which modern poets paid homage to the poems that sparked their love of words. The book is appropriately titled First Loves. For some poets it was a childhood nursery rhyme. For others it was a beloved hymn. For some it was an old English classic and for others it was a family favorite, oft quoted and well loved. After completing the book I pulled out my journal (I wasn’t a blogger then) and wrote my own contribution to First Loves.

As I’ve mentioned before, I always wanted to love poetry but never really “got it.” I struggled with poetry throughout my school years. I memorized the required assignments. I struggled through the tangled words in the textbook. Nothing reached out to me, offering that first unforgettable lovers kiss. It wasn’t until my marriage dissolved, and words began to support me through my pain, that I found my first love...and it happened to be the lyrics of a song. As one man left my life (my ex) another man walked in: Bruce Springsteen.

As a child of the 80s I was familiar with The Boss. I spent many an afternoon glued to MTV just waiting for his Dancing in the Dark video—the one where he pulls a very young, pre-fame Courtney Cox on stage to dance with him (oh god how I used to wish it could be me.) I remember the poster—the one of his blue jean clad butt, red baseball cap hanging out of the back pocket, standing in front of an American flag. Yes I knew the 80s pop idol. But it wasn’t until 1999-2000 that I ever listened to his earlier music (some of which was written and recorded before I was born—yes, the boss is older than my parents). When I purchased my copies of Greetings from Asbury Park NJ, The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, and Nebraska it was like coming home. To my knowledge I had never heard this music before, yet it was so familiar. It resonated with something deep within.

And that, as well as therapy, friends, and family, is how I survived one of the darkest times of my life. I listened to Springsteen until my heart found courage and healing. I love so much of his work—the Born to Run album being my all time favorite—but the first song that truly embraced my wounded heart and passionately kissed my spirit until I was left with hot cheeks and wobbly knees was Jungleland. These lyrics—the imagery, the storytelling, the mystery—are my first love.

There is a lot about his lyrics that I don’t understand. I’m a girl from a small Texas town. I don’t know anything about the inner city or NJ or racing in the streets. But I felt permission to release the struggle to understand and instead, to experience and feel the words and the music. And that is the gift his lyrics gave to me: the ability to step outside of the mind and into the spirit. It wasn’t too very long before I was progressing from The Boss to Plath, to Millay, to Nye, to Kinnell, to Rumi, to Oliver, to Whyte, to Neruda. Maybe a master-poet’s mind can’t make the leap from Springsteen to these classics. For some reason mine could. And anytime I need to remember that poetry doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be raw and honest and spirit breathed, I pop in Born to Run and let the words of Thunderroad, Meeting Across the River, Backstreets, She’s the One (which inspired Ed Burns to write the screenplay of the same name), Born to Run, and the final tract, Jungleland. I let his poetry do what it does best: take me home.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Boss…


The Rangers had a homecoming
In Harlem late last night
And the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine
Over the Jersey state line
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance
And disappear down Flamingo Lane

Well the Maximum Lawmen run down Flamingo
Chasing the Rat and the barefoot girl
And the kids round here look just like shadows
Always quiet, holding hands
From the churches to the jails
Tonight all is silence in the world
As we take our stand
Down in Jungleland

The midnight gang's assembled
And picked a rendezvous for the night
They'll meet 'neath that giant Exxon sign
That brings this fair city light
Man there's an opera out on the Turnpike
There's a ballet being fought out in the alley
Until the local cops
Cherry Tops
Rips this holy night
The street's alive
As secret debts are paid
Contacts made, they vanish unseen
Kids flash guitars just like switch-blades
Hustling for the record machine
The hungry and the hunted
Explode into rock'n'roll bands
That face off against each other out in the street
Down in Jungleland

In the parking lot the visionaries
Dress in the latest rage
Inside the backstreet girls are dancing
To the records that the DJ plays
Lonely-hearted lovers
Struggle in dark corners
Desperate as the night moves on
Just one look
And a whisper, and they're gone

Beneath the city two hearts beat
Soul engines running through a night so tender
In a bedroom locked
In whispers of soft refusal
And then surrender
In the tunnels uptown
The Rat's own dream guns him down
As shots echo down them hallways in the night
No one watches when the ambulance pulls away
Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light
Outside the street's on fire
In a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland


Blogger liz elayne said...

the healing powers of poetry and music. words can heal you. yes. this is so true. thank you for sharing this...the background of how poetry helped you to heal. and love The Boss. i think i will put the CD out and dance to him tomorrow - twirl around my living room and let his words tumble over my soul.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Ahh...this is indeed poetry. Love the story of how the Bosses words healed you. Words...the do so much...26 letters from which to create something to move another. Thanks so much. Be well.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Deb R said...

This makes me want to dig out some Springsteen, and crank it up. Thanks, Michelle.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

Definitely poetry...

from one child of the eighties to another.

brought back good memories. thank you for that.

10:06 PM  
Blogger twistedsoda said...

so green, I would kill for just one branch of leaves right now! Great poem, brought back baskets of memories!

1:31 AM  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

That is wonderful. Wonderful post, song, story. Thank you. Now, the sound of The Boss is going to be all through my house today, too!

2:26 AM  
Blogger megg said...

I loved this! I think that if you look at things this way, my first love was probably the Indigo Girls - the first time music SPOKE to me. thank you!!

3:15 AM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

my first poetry
also came
from song lyrics...
i used to write them out
poring over the words
searching for clues
and possibly answers...

and how odd
that as i was reading this,
i'm on fire
came on...
my favorite bruce song

4:47 AM  
Blogger snowsparkle said...

"it just has to be raw and honest and spirit breathed" !!!! michelle i love this piece... and your writing is all those things...your first kiss from poetry... wow! exhilarating! that's just how it feels when i "get" a poem (and there are still many times i don't). thank you for this fine start to my day!

6:13 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Wonderful post girl! You took me back much further in time to the Magic city. Saturday night, cars gathering around a tall structure in a parking lot. Music blaring the latest tunes and a disjockey saying welcome to the "Star Castle"! It was the local hot spot for popular music lovers. I have had a hearing problem all my life but the melodies always stuck with me all though I never knew the words. One of my old favorites was "Shangrila" I would just melt every time I heard it.

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Jersey girl UBER loves the Boss--Born to Run encapsulated all of that restless longing, and it really spoke to way life was around me.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Wenda said...

Michelle, When I read a piece like this, such poetry in appreciation of poetry, such a song about a singer and his songs, I imagine there is also another market or two for such writing and I wonder if you are sending anything elsewhere or if we blog readers are the only lucky ones.

Meanwhile, the email address shown in your profile isn't accepting email from me. This is the rejection message I get back: Your message cannot be delivered to the following recipients:
Recipient address:
Reason: Remote SMTP server has rejected address

You can reach me at if the above info provides any clues.

12:00 PM  
Blogger The Whole Self said...

it's great that you're so passionate about so many things-

i love naomi shihab nye, too...

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, so many memories. Loved it!

4:42 PM  
Blogger *j e w e l* said...

those poems are really should be a poet expert lol well you are like the first person i have saw on here that is from the U.S well i just started this tonight so if you could help me that would be awsome thanx

10:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home