Terence Winch

Come on, Come on, and Take It!

I go into this tiny room in my Manhattan hotel
with a gigantic television and a crucifix on the wall.
I take a long, hot bath. Ah, that feels so good. 
In the tub, I remember the Fillmore East, 1968.

I am wearing blue jeans with many patches
and a homemade suede vest. I’m only 22,
but feel old because so many of the other
people are kids, teenagers. Everyone is smoking
pot. My girlfriend and I have come downtown
from the Bronx to see Janis Joplin.

“Take Another Little Piece of My Heart”
 is the greatest love song ever written.
You can hear Janis’s heart breaking in it.

I worry about the subway ride back home.
I am always expecting to be murdered
on the subway as it travels through
the worst parts of the south Bronx
to my apartment off Fordham Road.

Janis and her band are so far away
you almost need binoculars to see them.
But her voice is right there, pointed
directly at my ears. And she is so amazing,
so brilliant, that even now, in the 21st century,
I can still picture her singing her heart out,
still hear that pain-wracked unforgettable
sound, so raw, beautiful, uncontained.    

New Music for Bagpipes
We shall set off for Newfoundland
to drink and play and spend
our money. We will be met
with wild acclaim from the moment
we step off the plane. We will write
music to fight to, we will re-write
the way the days unfold up there
so that night will fall when we do
and the sun will be present
only with our consent. We will
write exorbitant demands
on slips of paper. Other bands
will gaze in awe at the fees
we shall command. We will
sleep at the bar. We will dream
a tune called “Black Pudding”
and rewrite it every night
till every note is exactly right.

Words & Music 

The harmonica weeping plaintively
as only a harmonica can do. The bass
thumping away, of course, and the swish
of the brushes on the snare, with a slight, delicate
boom as the foot pedal hits the bass drum.

The sax is crying, sobbing for all that is lost in life.
The high-hat provides a background chorus to
the whole thing. Which involves mostly sex, cigarette
smoke, deep disappointment, promises unkept.

Now the fiddle’s lustrous, impossibly sad
commentary on people who are gone, battles still
being fought, children disobeying their parents,
marriages collapsing. The flute comes in to provide
a spiritual counterpoint to the harsh physical
statement, while the box and bodhran say over
and over, context is everything and we won’t last forever.

Outside, the honking, chirping, whistling, barking,
braying, howling, roaring. Thunder rattling.
Guitars come in on the b-part, then banjos, harps, pipes,
and finally some old man croaking out a song
about congestive heart failure, diabetes, dementia.

The orchestra tells him, keep singing, old man.
You are absurdly out of tune, but it’s kind of catchy,
in the way those decrepit graffiti-strewn buildings
along the Northeast Amtrak corridor
are ugly and beautiful all at once. 

The Button Accordion-Lovers Manifesto

We know all about the fiddle, flute,
and harp. Their ancient partnership
with the wind and the spirit.
The wild flinging out of melody
into the dark chambers of the
brain, an injection into your head
of the most addictive substance
available in the black
market of lovely things.

We don’t know why we’re alive
right now. We don’t know what
happens after. But we do know
what we are supposed to do
while we’re here.

The button accordion is the gem
of the row, the sweetest squeeze
that can play anything you please.
The mighty five-part reel
knifing through the ballroom
like an ocean liner, the haunting
air that bares the sacredness of loss. 
Jigs that make you drunk,
marches that make you salute.
Can’t get that off a flute.

After the Ball is Over                 

The old musicians
have stopped dyeing their hair.
They are having screws
screwed into their jaws
and tumors extracted
from their brains.

They say the dances go on
far too long these days,
with hardly any breaks.
And the money isn’t very good
on top of it all. They have come
to distrust each other. Each one
thinks the other can do nothing right.

They are all pretty dopey,
in their fat pants and slippers,
shouting into the telephones,
demanding some answers,
some kind of explanation
about how bad the dances
have become, the music itself
falling over like a drunk
wandering through the pain
relief aisle in the drugstore.

You Win Again   

You are floating down the river of fortune
with no future in store for you anymore.

You have the authority to compose
one song about blackbirds, but that is all.

You struggle, you examine all the evidence,
you spin around to the test of love polka.

History says we must puncture God full
of holes till he bleeds right into the margins.

Reason calls on us to die in a world where
our minds afflict our bodies with hope.

The light leaks in despite all our efforts
to snuggle up in the velvety darkness.

Terence Winch is the author of eight poetry collections: The Known Universe (2018), This Way Out, Lit from Below, Falling out of Bed in a Room with No Floor, Boy Drinkers, The Drift of  Things, The Great Indoors (Columbia Book Award winner), and Irish Musicians/American Friends (American Book Award winner). He has also written two story collections, Contenders and That Special Place: New World Irish Stories, which draw on his experiences as a founding member of the original Celtic Thunder, the acclaimed Irish band. His work is included in more than 40 anthologies, among them the Oxford Book of American Poetry, Poetry 180, and five editions of Best American Poetry, and has been featured on “The Writer’s Almanac” and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Winch is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in poetry and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing, among other honors.  He was the subject of our Closer Look in Innisfree 5.



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