Travels with Joni

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First off, I just want to say that I appreciate anyone who reads this. When I started this page and posting things, it was a big deal to me because I had been writing for years, and I never shared anything. I was encouraged and pushed by many to ‘put things out there,’ and I finally did. I’ve always maintained the position and still do that if one person reads something I write on here and it awakens something or makes them feel something, it’s worth it. I realize I have not posted as much this year, as I had in the past (or at least in the last couple months). I will address it more because I have been writing. Even that, has been a bit more difficult, but I know that it’s the one thing that has always kept me going and so, even at my weakest/lowest, I know I have to go back to writing. I have had a year of health issues and when you don’t feel well, sometimes it’s hard to push through and do anything. One of the more challenging aspects is that I am writing so there is a backlog of poems and some of them do have to do with the times we’re living in. I hope they don’t become irrelevant, but if they’re good, they stand the test of time. The poem I chose to post today is something that I never planned to post. The combination of several factors came together and, to me, made it relevant, I guess. The poem really covers a year I took after college to travel the United States and do community service. During the year, you’re placed on a team of like 9-12 people. The stories from that year, what I learned in that year, I could write a book on. There have been poems posted that were plucked up moments of conversation, etc., but this one is different. I wrote this poem a while back. During my year of community service (I did two, so I have two different teams). I’m referring to my first one in the poem, we were a group of really different people. I often think the secret to our success and friendship as a team was due to the fact that we were such different people. We had some overlaps, one being our senses of humor, which definitely helped, but we really were, and are to this day, different people. I think because we were so different, it often stopped us from forming permanent cliques and/or groups. We remained cohesive as group or unit because there was no on was ‘totally like us,’ and so we tended to experience everyone and not right anyone off. Again, we overlapped in some areas, but it was rare. We were often traveling together for hours in a van and (this was before digital music), so we’d take turns choosing CD’s. There were one or two CD’s that spoke to the whole team eventually. One of those CD’s was Joni Mitchell’s, Blue. The other CD’s I could always see the overlap in style or something. Blue was a mystery. It was one of my favorite CD’s of all time. There were several other Joni fans, but we had people that never heard of Joni Mitchell, and I definitely could not see them ever listening to her. When I wrote the poem, I think it was in memory of that time because it was during lockdown and we had a Zoom reunion where all of us were together for the first time since we left base. We all maintained personal relationships and had seen each other in smaller groups, but it was the only time we all were in one place. When I wrote it, it felt like something I just had to do to sort of get it out of my system. I didn’t quite love it. It’s hard to capture something so big. I don’t think I will ever be able to do that. When I look at the poem from that perspective, it still feels ‘wrong,’ and ‘not enough.’ However, over the last few weeks a strange think happened. Blue, the album turned 50. There were articles and videos and all sorts of wonderful delights for fans of Blue and Joni. The album is among my favorite albums of all times. In regards to singer/songwriters, which I adore, it’s hard to beat. I was first introduced to it by an ex-girlfriend, who was introduced to it by her parents. I had my favorite songs. I definitely admired the poetry, but what I realized over the last few weeks is that my ‘devotion,’ and ‘total love of Blue,’ came during those months when I was with my team. I began to see and understand that album in a way that I never had. I think a lot of people hear Blue and think of it as a breakup record or just a confessional record. I think my love for it grew as I heard it as a travelogue of sorts. When I go back and read the poem, that’s what I’m trying to capture. I’m not trying to capture a year with this team. I’m trying to capture falling in love with this album that I responded to because it was a travelogue, much the way my life was during that time. In the album, you get a sense of someone lost trying to find themselves and their place through travel and adventure and the hope that those things bring. They also often change us drastically and, in change, we have to come face to face with old parts of ourselves that maybe we had not. It is leaving relationships to find yourself, your own voice, and often realizing that the ‘new you,’ does not quite fit any longer in that relationship. It’s about the characters you meet along the way, often eccentric enough to never be forgotten, who still somehow bring out a part of you, you didn’t quite know was there. It’s also about realizing this is not your life. It’s temporary and there will come a time when you will have to return to your life and the problems/relationships you left behind. It’s about knowing that this person your becoming might not quite be the same person you were when you left. It’s about being homesick at times in the journey for the people and places you miss and at the same time knowing that they might not be the same or there when you return. It’s also about learning to miss places and things that sometimes we take for granted. The album documents all this in so many ways. When I wrote the poem, it was about those feelings. It was tapping into the memory of the excitement and joy of being on such an amazing adventure. It was tapping into knowing that it was going to end and, although there were times when you were homesick and in need of a shower, knowing, even then, there would come a day when you would miss it all. The people, the feelings, the growing, all of it would someday be a memory that you miss. As I read the tributes to the album (and it just happens half of the team is born within 3 weeks of each other) I began to understand that I was not, in any way trying to capture the experience. I was writing about falling in love with this album that so remarkably captured all those feelings I felt during that portion of my life and still does. So today, I’m choosing to post it in tribute to the album, which captured such a defining time in my life and as a birthday gift to those amazing individuals I will always share those feelings, those characters, those songs with.


The first time I heard those lines,
The wind is in from Africa,
Joni, none of us could sleep.
Our fingernails were filthy,
we had beach tar on our feet
and we missed any sort of bedding, screw the cologne.
It was summer, and we had lived a year in tents,
eating raw tuna from cans. We were feral.
From coastal town to the next, the beach was always on us,
our tents so humid we slept outside under parked cars for shade.

“Carey” was a fun song on Blue,
but I never cozied up to what,
I interrupted as a breezy love song
about fresh Joni and some old man.
Years a part, Joni and I were aging together.
She was still Joni, with the high and light voice (to me), when,
in reality, she had already transitioned into her dusky, alto range.

Still, in that summer, every breeze cooled.
A year on the road and there were characters:
The horny Polish construction worker self-named, Boner,
the aspiring scientists that drank Sarsaparilla in the heat of our work,
townies at Friday night Karaoke, hosted by the strict
Hawaiian hostess, who sang Hawaiian love ballads
to her dead husband between Kiss and Sublime covers.

Of course, we only knew each other then
as some strange family bonded by a year on the road.
We watched as first dates happened, relationships began
and many more relationships died, unable to survive long distances.
One night, after a visit from the Blue Nun Wine,
we kissed each other just to know what it felt like
to touch lips with the people we spent a year of ourselves learning.

We barely had any music we all could agree to listen to.
By the end of the summer, we reveled in catching
Chatahoochi in the static threads of the AM radio’s faint pulse.
Joni, we allowed. Although all agreed, her late seventies stuff
was a little too much late seventies for all of us.

They were the first and only people I spent days in cafes with
discussing topics like unrequited love. They were
the only one’s who understood in the heat of that July
how you just need silly people,
insane acts, and some old people to dance with,
when your feet are full of beach tar and you are missing a home.

We spent innumerable Sunday nights in cafes,
in tourist towns, with townies who maybe never made it home.
“Carey,” began to eulogize a time when all we knew
was who was at the cafe, who we were maybe in love with,
and although dirty and tired, how comfortable and in love
we were with a life we all knew would eventually end.

This is when I began to know track two, “Carey,” on Blue.
The crazy, older person in the town, beyond eclectic, known for eccentricities,
who spent each night making adventure wild enough
to satisfy our youthful needs, as we spent weeks
stuck in another tourist town.

You would never dance to Ride Sally Ride for hours.
You would never drink Everclear punch until it made you
dance to Bob Seger singing Katmandu until five AM,
rendering you unable to walk the next day.
You would never feel hospitality like Carey’s.

The toast to nothings, the toasts too vulgar to remember,
the toasts that went on and on and on into the night,
as we got more and more drunk and realized,
we did have homes and soon we’d be back there,
expected to wear shoes, comb our hair, keep reasonable hours.

Joni once said of writing Blue, “At that period of my life,
I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper
On a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had I Absolutely no secrets from the world
And I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or happy.’

The thing about the Carey’s we met along our way
was they had no personal defenses. They were
honest to themselves, there were no secrets to them.
They were these carnivals of personality, juggling so much.

Today, it is “Carey” that I listen to,
to take me back to the time when the honesty
was in the moment, the characters. The feelings
reflecting off the Carey’s we met. The joy of knowing the carefree,
the independent, the transparent so easy to read,
you have to search for some complexity you’re missing.

The thing is, it was the Carey’s that found us common music,
that allowed us to be covered in beach tar, dirtier than pigs,
still not really caring what was under our nails
because we knew life would not hold many Carey’s,
and the shower would expect us every day for years to come.

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