Monday, January 26, 2009

highland court

In my last post, I mentioned Sloss Furnaces. I spent most of my young adult life living in various apartments on Southside. The last place I lived as a single girl was called Highland Court.

Glen and Joe and Becca lived in Highland Court. That model chick and her cute musician husband lived in Highland Court. The crazy girl who didn't own a pair of comfortable shoes and turned up the techno music at 3am lived in Highland Court. I had a small balcony and my dog Lucy and the long, narrow stairwell up to my door. I rode my bike everywhere and fell asleep to Michael Hedges or John Coltrane or Peter Gabriel. As happy as I was to get married, I had a hard time saying goodbye to Highland Court.

Every now and again we'd build a little fire in the middle of the courtyard and stay up all night. One night we decided to walk to Sloss at around... hell, I don't know... maybe 2? 3? 4? On the way, we had to stop for a train. There was a cop parked next to the tracks. The train was carrying tank after tank after tank. The cop said he was there to make sure nothing happened. He didn't hassle us at all, which was fortunate given our general state of mind. It was a little odd.

The train rolled past and the tanks got smaller. The cop took off, and we kept walking. I don't remember how we got onto the premises -- whether we had to sneak through or climb over anything, or whether it was all pretty accessible. But we got in, and we wandered through, and we climbed up that really high tower, which is way higher than you realize until you're up there. We smashed our cigarette butts into a film cannister so as not to litter. And later I wrote a song.

I'm a little reluctant to post song lyrics, because they never quite work unless they're being sung. Poetry is meant for the page; lyrics are meant for the song. But I'm going to give it a go and see how it turns out. I think I probably wrote this in 1998 or so. I typically fingerpick variations of C and G with a capo on the fourth fret when playing it. It's called Highland Court.

Came dancing through the courtyard,
wings and wands and fairy dust
Sprinkled it beside me on a night made out of August
Followed them to the railroad,
saw them ship the tanks off for the war
It used to be that war was just a word
we never heard

Taught me how to read the map,
how to find the belly of the tree
Biggest one in all the forests east of the Mighty Mississippi
Older than my daddy,
old as god, old as mercy
It used to be that mercy was just a word
we never heard

Climbed the stairs to the furnace,
climbed down into the canyon's bowl
Ate my granny apple, lay back as the time unfolded
Quiet as the backseat
in the dark on the way home
Quiet is a ladle full of words
we never heard

Yeah, well -- not quite the same as a poem. Music adds rhythm and inflection and an emotional sense that would otherwise be built into a poem. Lyrics alone are confusing and easy to stumble over.

Wrapped up in this song is a whole nother adventure in the Sipsey Wilderness, as well as one in the Little River Canyon, but I'll save those for another day. They all took place while I was living in that little apartment, with all of those people that I wonder about now.

(And yes, I do consider "a whole nother" to be perfectly acceptable Alabama grammar.)


Julia said...

You unraveled a mystery for me today - I never could figure out why lyrics don't generally work on the page but do in a song. You said it so well.

Also, I love the poem. It may sound good strummed V to I but it also sounds good just so.

See you guys really soon!! May I have a green egg?

Patsy said...

I was gonna say I am so envious of your old farmhouse as that has always been a dream of mine to have an old old farmhouse, not all fixed up, but then you wrote that about Highland and I thought no, wait, that's my dream. I want to live on Southside again.

Found you through my daughter, Who Knows What. I also live in Hayden. Downtown Hayden, or what was downtown 40 years ago. We have a great old place, the old Masonic Lodge, but quiet and peaceful it is not as it is across the street from the train tracks. Still, we love it here.

Loved your poem, love your blog.

countrypeapie said...

Hi Julia! I think Steve Allen used to do a bit on the Carol Burnett show where he read popular song lyrics aloud as though they were poems. It was hilarious. And of course you may have some green eggs! And brown and white and pinkish ones, too! Can't wait to see y'all.

Hi Patsy! Thanks for coming by, and nice to meet you. I just hopped over to your blog -- what a wonderful discovery. And you're HERE, in Hayden! I'll have to keep my eyes open for the Masonic Lodge. My son would love to live next to the train tracks. And yeah, city and country play tug of war in me still.

Shannon said...

Doesn't everyone spend some period of time exploring the Bohemian side of themselves on Southside?

Hi Mom!

Heather said...

I lived at the Highland Club throughout grad school and had very similar experiences without the guitar (poetry, no music except what's in my head already).

Thanks for bringing me back to where I once belonged. This is an awesome revelry.

countrypeapie said...

Hi Shannon! Yes, I think so. For me, it was pretty much 14 (fountain kid) 'til almost 30!

Hiya Heather! Thanks. Every now and again I drive past one of my old places and crane my neck for something familiar.

edifice rex said...

It's funny that we seem to have done so much of the same stuff. I was telling Lee that I lived on Highland (can't remember the name of the apartments) but didn't know if you heard that part. those apartments were right there on the second park. Boy, that was a long time ago.

countrypeapie said...

Hi Annie! Yeah, these days I don't much like doing the math to determine just how long ago it was!