In 2007, I attended the MusicNow festival in Cincinnati. I hadn’t yet fallen in love with the Dessner brothers’ work with The National, hadn’t met the owners of Asthmatic Kitty, or known Shara well for more than a year. I went because I was tired of a long Buffalo winter. I was lucky enough to attend all three days of the festival–Clogs premiered the songs that finally this year are being released on their new album, and Sufjan played some songs that have yet to be released… so in some ways, it’s not so long ago, but the experience is contained in my mind inside a fine gauze like mold, preserved in embryonic purity like a mosquito in amber or a baby boot in metal. The buildings in that part of Cinci seemed half-drowned. Those that boxed in Washington Park were coated to the top of the first floor windows with some sterile light-blue heavy-grade paint. Probably to cover graffiti marks. The store-fronts were all empty, and I had the impression that the blue line was a watermark, like in the Erie Canal locks near my hometown–the water lowers to meet the level of the lock below, accepts a passenger, and then closes and raises to meet the level of the next lock. The walls when they drain spit and gurgle with zebra mussels deposited in the locks by passing boats. The shells of the mussels are sharp, so you don’t touch them. It was all I could think as I was walking up the long front steps to the music hall. In my memory, those front steps ascended to the tree tops and the building peeked over them, a pantheon dome, a buoy, a great cement pig belly floating in the spume. The whole three days of music was rich. Almost to illness. Three nights of feasting after near starvation for a year. On the final night, husband and wife duo Irena Havlová and Vojtěch Havel performed a tremendously tender piece culminating with a functional embrace as they worked out a piano ostinato together–she holding the inner octaves, and he reaching the highs and lows around her. This only after a full 40 minutes of minimal scrapes and drones on their cellos. In the balcony next to me, a young man stowed a can of PBR under his coat and complained about the monotonous music until that final few minutes in which all the agitation and confusion of the young audience was transformed into a camera draw.
I drove home through a blizzard — an eruption of white and wind through Cleveland. Some angels somewhere are responsible for keeping me awake during the drive. I couldn’t see more than 10 feet ahead of the hood, and the road was entirely white. I rode the rumble strip all the way through Ohio. I was exhausted and I kept the driver’s side window open so that wind would keep me awake. Three times I came in visual contact with the angel itself: first in the form of a sunfish swimming towards me through a squall just north of Dayton, about the size of a bicycle tire. The second it was in the form of a snake with antlers and it scuttled along the rumble strip in front of me. The third time it formed out of a heap of fast food trash, a fox lying on its side. It looked hurt and so I started to pull over to get a better look at it, but as I slowed to a stop, a wind picked up and I was again completely enveloped in the squall. When the winds died down, a squad of snow removal behemoths came up from behind, slow and laboring into view. I followed them out of Ohio and up over the Appalachian ridge of Pennsylvania and into New York State.
The muse is like the scent of a meal being prepared–more intense the closer you get to the source, but the muse isn’t the source itself. I wake up each morning to the smells of food being prepared a floor below me in a soup shop that shares our building. Sometimes I become so accustomed to the smells that I don’t notice them until I’ve left the house or returned from somewhere else.