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Hey, Lyosha

There are prison tattoos on the backs of his hands. Faded, blotchy shapes and a finger that jabs at a phone. "Hey, Lyosha!" He shouts, as every face on the bus swings to him. There is no answer, no voice on the other side. "Lyosha." He says again, then stares angrily out the windows. I step on someone's foot by accident, apologizing quickly. The young man waves his hand as if to say I did not need to say anything. The man with the tattoos sips from a giant cup of soda from KFC that is balanced on the empty seat next to him.

We pass a hotel we used to live next to, where expensive escorts are ferried in and out like yachts in a harbor. There is a fresh line of flags snapping in a low wind, and an American one is curiously absent. Plenty of the businessmen behind those windows are from the states.

The man brandishes the phone and hands it to the young man in front of me. I did not see that one coming. The young man wipes invisible dust from it, a reserved frown …

no disguise


It wasn't something I had planned on, it just began one Saturday afternoon. Maybe keeping a 100 year old guitar within reach is all it takes, and there is nothing so remarkable or surprising after that happens. There is a sound that comes from it, not just the jangle and the clang of wild strumming - but of lost history, of stories that smell like old books in an attic. There is ancient dust in the cracks of this guitar and I get lost in it. As if birds are flying into the windows, the songs splash out one at a time, each one sadder and lonelier and more full of regret than the next. They are confessions, apologies, conversations with lost souls. I cannot say I write them as much as witness them. 

                       Don't know if I'm good or bad, 
                     just what you tell me.
                     She had a gift for taking things away
                     so please tell me, some precious things.
                     Like when I was a boy, 
                     when I was the new kid.


I am calling this almost-album "a box of letters" right now, but I am sure there is a better name that will replace that. I have demos of nine songs, all recorded within minutes of writing them. I stop sometimes, editing the words, starting again. I put the songs in different sequences to listen to while riding the trolley bus in the afternoon to go to the big market where there is fish and secret imported cheese, wild honey and chopsticks. There is something so foreign about my voice in the headphones, and I barely recognize it. The guitar, that is another story. It can never disguise itself.

Some songs go, and new ones replace them. I toy with some spoken word sections, literally reading letters to old girlfriends written by imaginary men, but then I put those aside. They sound more like a radio play to me now, even with murky instruments bubbling behind them like brain soup. 

The last song in the lineup plays, and then there is silence. I stare at the old people on the bus, a woman with her head wrapped in a scarf stepping into the bright afternoon. It all feels so incredibly overwhelming, and I did not see that coming.

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