A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry

by Guante

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about

"A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" is a special mix of old, new, remixed and remastered songs and poems from MC, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, activist and educator GUANTE.

From the forward-thinking, political edge of Guante & Big Cats, to the traditionalist boom-bap of Sifu Hotman, to the acoustic curveball A Loud Heart, Guante's projects have always pushed boundaries and defied expectations. The best tracks from each of those projects are presented here, along with brand new songs, exclusive remixes, live spoken-word recordings, and more. Featuring Chastity Brown, deM atlaS, Kristoff Krane and others, "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" is the perfect introduction to Guante's work.

www.guante.info
www.twitter.com/elguante
www.facebook.com/guantesolo

credits

released January 1, 2015

Producers and guest vocalists noted in the song titles. Because this is a sampler mix, the mixing/mastering on each individual song was done in many different places; the overall mix was done by Graham O'Brien at Bellows.

Album Art by Rogue Citizen (Artwork by Matt McGorry, Art Direction by Lizardman)

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about

Guante Minneapolis, Minnesota

MC, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, activist and educator.

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Track Name: Deathbed and Beyond (prod. Big Cats, additional vocals by Haley Bonar)
You can call it a love song
You can call it a death rattle
You can call it a battle cry
You can call it the national anthem for your side

When I’m on my deathbed,
I’d rather have a memory of this conversation
than just a blank space in which I’d fill with fantasy
I write to turn strangers into family
I write to cultivate space, write to plant these seeds
I write to shine a little light on ‘em,
see the cipher spit drip right on ‘em
I write often, to see the seed change into a tree on my grave; where others only see a stage
I see billions of people, and billions of years
all leading up to us standing right here
And if that ain’t a miracle, I am not a sinner
I’m a man tryin’ to dam a river
so we’re not all just water under the bridge
Give me a lake where my sisters and brothers can swim
Because I don’t have a lot of close friends
I try to make up for that with a lot of far ones,
as if the light from a million little stars was
as warm as the sun on summer Sundays
I leave a CD on the counter for another someday
like… let me explain:

When I was 17, I was considered deceased for five minutes
and I remember everything, so I don’t know my limits
How can you? When you see the stars like candles
unmoved by the past tense force of your last breath your
last steps never echo too far
No heaven, no hell, just an ocean of stars
And when it’s all finished, you fall in it
The ripple’s so small and it fits like a halo
Hey yo, I woke up in the ambulance,
the paramedics askin’ what you laughin’ at?
And after that I inhaled so hard
that a little Midwest impaled my heart
Now maybe that explains my art:
half Twin Cities, half made of stars
I’ve been to the other side, really
Y’all want to see what I brought back with me?
Track Name: To Young Leaders (prod. Big Cats)
So here’s what you can expect:
a burlap sack with a dollar sign on it or a check
They’ll throw it at your feet and ask you to dance
They’ll point rocket launchers at your feet and ask you to dance
I never danced, proud to play the wall and leave early
Ridin’ shotgun with Circe; watch for the pigs
Watch for the cigarette vendors
Watch for the bread and circuses and remember:
Everything’s for sale and everything will kill you
So don’t buy it, remember who supplies it
Their teeth are syringes, eyes are blood diamonds
shinin’, the patron saints of gun violence
Remember: a poem is worth more than a prayer
A prayer is a quiet conversation
A poem is an incantation, a fireball from your fingertips
It’s something out of nothing, and we’re listenin’
So spit it, every mic is a magic wand
And all the stage is a world
So when they ask you to dance, kick ‘em in the teeth
Listen to the beat, listen to the beat…

IN LESS THAN ONE HUNDRED YEARS, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR FACEBOOK FRIENDS WILL BE DEAD. YOUR LIFE, YOUR IMPACT UPON THIS PLANET, UPON YOUR COMMUNITY, CANNOT BE MEASURED IN LIKES, IN PLAYS, IN CDS SOLD. YOU BETTER RECOGNIZE. YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE.

So here’s what you can expect:
style over substance, lust and fear over respect
I used to rap really fast,
and the kids at the shows would say “damn”
but they wouldn’t understand
What you say is more important than how you say it
What you do is more important than what you say
And what you build is more important than what you do
So what you going to build today?
Young leader, young metahuman,
young spellcaster, stay fashionin’ the blueprints
Humility is beautiful, but when worse comes to worst,
remember what you’re worth
Remember: people who have not accomplished
half of what you have
are going to tell you that you “work too hard”
And they’ll support your yappin’ but when you propose action
they’ll tell you that it goes too far
But if you really want change, be prepared to make war,
whether physical spiritual cultural or something more
Because if we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,
what the hell are we waiting for?

THE SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR LIFE SHOULD NOT BE BACKGROUND MUSIC. WRAP YOUR POETRY AROUND A WARCLUB. TAKE YOUR MOST POTENT, BATTLE-TESTED FOLK MUSIC, TURN THE BASS UP, AND ADD SOME DRUMS THAT BANG. YOU BETTER RECOGNIZE. YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE. YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE.

We are more than the sum of our parts
They are less than the sum of our fears
I think the guards are asleep at the gate,
and we got all the weapons we need right here
We are more than the sum of our parts
They are less than the sum of our fears
I think the guard is asleep at the gate,
and we got all the weapons we need right here
Track Name: Matches w/ deM atlaS (prod. Rube)
Guante:
The reason that I’m not a nihilist
is someday, I want to live like in Star Trek
And I know that we’ll never build starships
until we tackle poverty, war and hardship, so we fight
Overnight or over lifetimes, organize for that warp drive
and of course I realize
that we’re a long way from it
But what better reason to start runnin’?
‘Cause if you’re going to do the work, then it’s got to be honest
because the best of us have all already been forgotten
And if you’re in it for the recognition
I hate to disappoint, but if you do it right you’ll never get it
Yo, we don’t remember the farmer, we remember the fruit
We don’t remember the inventor, we remember the boom
The impact through the eons
So I know what side of history I want to be on
I got a lot of ancestors on my side
I got an ancestor took an arrow to the chest and survived
I got an ancestor who cheated and lied
I got an ancestor who taught her children how to fight
Right? So much spirit in my corner,
can’t help but color outside every border
To every ancestor who kept my song alive
I swear on your unmarked graves: I will sing it ‘til I die

No friction: no flame
No struggle: no progress, no sweat
How many times do we have to win
before you realize we have not lost yet?
No friction: no flame
No struggle: no progress, no sweat
How many times do we have to win
before you realize we are not lost yet?

deM atlaS:
What is it? What is it?
If it ain’t something, then it’s the other thing
that’s botherin’ me
Hagar the Horrible, most rhetorical lesson ever received
Was there was no need
for no money, no greed, only prophecy
shit, I’m inspired by this openness, and nothing matters;
scream at the wall, and hope it shatters
into a thousand pieces, enemy of the state
is what I became, wearin’ Patti Smith’s musty shoes
Rock and roll nigga I became, become
Why am I the only one who looks different?
Paint me as the new eccentric; if I had it my way
Minneapolis would be Piss Christ
suspended in air above the lakes
no one even knows the names of, and if you do,
you have too much time on your fuckin’ hands
that’s you pace about the room tryin’ not to give a damn
Yeah, I’m kickin’ down the door like I did inside the womb;
pause ‘til the interlude; there’s something funky to you
Forget whatever you thought you knew
‘cause none of that bullshit will serve you
I’ll be there in due time; until then…

No friction: no flame
No struggle: no progress, no sweat
How many times do we have to win
before you realize we have not lost yet?
No friction: no flame
No struggle: no progress, no sweat
How many times do we have to win
before you realize we are not lost yet?

Guante:
There are no stories told in a vacuum
There is no prophecy lighting our way
There is just a lot of darkness to be afraid of,
so it’s a good thing we are not afraid
There is no superman in that phone booth
There is no rewarding our faith
There is no one who can save us,
so it’s a good thing we don’t need to be saved
There are no starships in low earth orbit
No aliens to save us from ourselves
There is no voice willing to speak for us,
so it's a good thing we know how to yell
There is no chosen one, no destiny, no fate
There's no such thing as magic
There is no light at the end of this tunnel,
so it’s a good thing we brought matches
Track Name: The Illusion of Movement w/ Claire de Lune
Past the last exit, pedal to the floor, no radio,
thoughts in surround sound stereo, blastin’
with two bars in his head, ain’t right, so revise, rewrite
and remember her reaction
to the first song written where she was the subject
and how her face turned red like the sunset
in his rearview, as he hits the interstate
listenin’ to art that his life imitates
art imitates life imitates art
Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other starts
Especially when you’re an artist
And you know words fall short,
but you’re still usin’ ‘em regardless
He writes the verses in his head
and spits ‘em to the wind, over and over again
with no beat, half a hook written to it
Now he only hopes that she’ll listen to it, even though...

Halfway is as far he can get
Deep down he knows
But he’s still got his hands on the wheel,
foot on the accelerator, eyes on the road

He was an amateur philosopher and part time MC
She liked to do like the dew on the leaves
and shimmer in the sunrise every Saturday
It should have come as no surprise
that she’d eventually evaporate
He didn’t know what to make of her at first
and bit by bit, by accident, he started painting her in verse
She’d appear in the margins of notebooks
In between lines of poetry and logic formulas
And when they started to get close enough,
sparks flew, and for the first time they both opened up
Philosophy and poetry and music
spillin’ out onto the grass at the park
where they’d laugh after dark
just to soak in the moonlight and bask in the stars
He shakes his head, and he’s back in his car
Freestylin’ out loud to keep from cryin’
Doin’ 95, halfway to the horizon, even though…

Halfway is as far he can get
Deep down he knows
But he’s still got his hands on the wheel,
foot on the accelerator, eyes on the road

She couldn’t understand the paradox
when he attempted to explain it that day
That between every point A and every point B
is an infinite series of halfways
And mathematically, all movement is just an illusion
She knew it wasn’t true, and she said that she could prove it
She moved in, closed her eyes, and then they kissed
The uniformity of nature crumbled in between their lips
And he knew it was impossible; it couldn’t exist
but he preferred reality like this
And when she left, he didn’t know what was real or true
All he knew is what he had to do
So he’ll pretend that the smile on her lips exists
And seem to make some sense from this darkness
And imagine seeing her from across infinity
And dream of moving toward her regardless, even though…

Halfway is as far he can get
Deep down he knows
But he’s still got his hands on the wheel,
foot on the accelerator, eyes on the road
Track Name: No Capes (prod. Big Cats)
They found superman’s body behind a Chinese buffet,
cape over his head, wedged between dumpsters
And I ain’t dude’s biggest fan, but two kryptonite bullets?
It’s just messed up that we went out like such a sucker
Just got bucked like one of us would,
but it’s poetic justice he’d die
in Southside Metropolis, just look up in the sky:
Ain’t no birds no planes and no solutions,
just a permanent curtain of smog
flickered to life by light pollution
Superman was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me
Little more than a prisoner with a life sentence
honoring us roaches with his friendship
But look who he defended: policy, property and investments
Their truth, justice and American way;
but that was never our direction,
forced into lookin’ to the sky for protection that never came
as he battled robots for the status quo, not for the people
and tried to spin it into “good vs. evil”
But this is not a movie for us, tryin’ to one-take life
Don’t look for the sequel; look for the steeple, ring every bell
as though god had fallen and was fertilizing hell
We are not faithful;
we just know flight doesn’t make you an angel

The day after superman died,
everybody stopped lookin’ up in the sky
and started lookin’ down at the ground
like we have been heroes here this whole time
The day after superman died,
everybody just got back on the grind
‘Cause there is work to be done, yo
No capes, but we stay fly

My hero is the janitor who organizes
afterschool programs in his off time
My hero is the amateur rapper who only makes
twenty dollars but spits all night
My hero is the independent journalist
working under pressure that I can’t imagine
My hero has got to be that single mother workin’ two jobs
yet still findin’ time to splash the canvas
My hero is the union organizer
who stays disillusioned, but he keeps movin’
He says it’s for the movement,
and even if he doesn’t live to see it
he’ll make improvements for his kids; believe it
My hero is not a household name
She just runs a household day after day, no excuses
Her superpower’s dinner made on minimum wage
for two teens and a first generation college student
My heros are refugees
Undocumented workers sending money back home
Conscious thugs, gay rappers, and hip hop feminists
who never had shit but a dream and some backbone
And none of us wear capes; none of us will ever be president
None of us will ever be superman; we can only jump so high
But feet to the earth, we are so fly

The day after superman died,
everybody stopped lookin’ up in the sky
and started lookin’ down at the ground
like we have been heroes here this whole time
The day after superman died,
everybody just got back on the grind
‘Cause there is work to be done, yo
No capes, but we stay fly
Track Name: You Say Millionaire Like It's a Good Thing (prod. Ganzobean)
This place is a prison and these people aren’t your friends
Ain’t no postal service when it’s always Sunday in your head
Letters unsent, burnin’ that blunt at both ends
In the break room ready to break
Halfway to broke, halfway to broken down
This job makes you nauseous; you try to hold it down
And they will take every opportunity to comment on your luck
‘cause in this economy you got to be like bottom’s up
even when you know it’s poison, yo: you feelin’ well?
Like a body that’s so hungry it begins to eat itself?
Bootstraps so tight you can’t admit to needin’ help,
on the real, feel like hell and you want it to all stop
Jackass co-workers makin’ small talk
Try to stay focused, you casually glance at your watch
and see that you are halfway, to being halfway
to being halfway done with half of half of your day

Punch that clock ‘til it bleeds
It feels like they’re tryin’ to break us
They tell you to follow your dreams,
but your alarm is going off, wake up

All of my life I been lied to:
just found out my boss makes 500 times what I do
and still wants to cut my hours back
to 39 and three quarters ‘cause 40 gets you a health plan
And I got a feelin’ I’m a need it
Losin’ feelin’ in my knees and my lower back
and I’m going back, trapped like a lower class clown
Hold a rat down, so we kill each other over cheddar
Keep us hungry so we never organize for nothing better
Just make it through the day, make it through the week,
make it through the month,
make a millionaire another couple bucks
What, and like that, the coffee buzz is gone
It’s only 9:30, step by step with the other pawns
One square at a time,
somewhere between the walking dead and the buried alive
You can’t steal what’s already been stolen
You can’t kill what is already dead
So if we got to be zombies, let’s snatch the CEO
and see if there is a brain in his head, until then…

Punch that clock ‘til it bleeds
It feels like they’re tryin’ to break us
They tell you to follow your dreams,
but your alarm is going off, wake up

So if you got a dollar in your pocket, put your hands in the air
Ten dollars in your pocket, put your hands in the air
If it’s a hundred or a thousand that’s fair
But there’s no such thing as an innocent millionaire

If you got a dollar in your pocket, eat a taco
Ten dollars; buy some peanut butter and some bread
If you got a hundred or a thousand you can stock up
But a million may as well be human flesh

If you got a dollar in your pocket, drink some water
If you got ten, have a beer with your lunch
If you got a hundred or a thousand, you can dig your own well
And for a million, you can drink all the blood you can suck

That dollar in your pocket is an insult
Ten dollars in your pocket ain’t enough
The reason that so many of us are have-nots,
is that the haves have way too much
Let’s get ‘em
Track Name: Riverbed (prod. Ganzobean)
It’s hard to be the cool kid at a funeral
Skinny black tie, black shoes, it’s a beautiful October afternoon
I watch a plane overhead
full of human beings who have no idea that you’re…
I guess life goes on… no offense
And now I’m tryin’ not to laugh, which makes me want to laugh
and I don’t mean no disrespect as I step into this funeral home
like light through stained glass,
like light through black holes, like light that faded ages ago
like my phone on airplane mode
Like I don’t believe in ghosts, but I swear I feel it buzz:
a voicemail from the nothing where something was
I’m still laughing; I can’t pretend like I’m not sad
It’s just that lack of touch is not the same as lack of contact
And that grim reaper isn’t that powerful
He can’t change the past and your impact is unstoppable
I don’t think you die when you die
I don’t think we really understand what it means to be alive
Much less existence and much less time
We think that there’s no time, but maybe there’s no time
And maybe memory and prophecy are intertwined
Maybe the present is a pixel in a much larger design
If the picture’s resolution is a trillion by a trillion,
but the CPU display is only one by one
Well then it’s easy to assume that there’s nothing but the room
in which we hide, and not a whole universe outside
I don’t know if any of this makes sense
I don’t know if I should end it with an amen
I just know there’s a river in every raindrop
and a lot of raindrops in that riverbed, I said,
I just know there’s a river in every raindrop
and a lot of raindrops in that riverbed
Track Name: Whose Planet? Our Planet w/ deM atlaS (prod. Rube)
deM atlaS:
Climbin’ insurmountable objects through the projects
My prospects shifted; take in what is around you kid
even the wicked, no recognition, fool
A vision of a father, single mothers holdin’ it down
close to the ground; their little angels wear chain halos
Church readin’ acid tablets, four quarters to a pound
You can have anything you want, even heaven
but it’ll cost you something
Rain man equals the satan, you tired of waitin’
Give me what got, what do you want?
Just a way out of this shit
In the system of division you either rich or impoverished;
martyr or the artist; brainwashed or livin’ a life lost
here’s a rope to hang yourself twice, cousin
Rappers are cheaper by the dozen,
frontin' they always want somethin’

Guante:
Flameo hotman
Holla at the outdated slang and the cadence we rock with
Rhyme bender, soul bender, beat bender, watch it
Conscious is never enough, who rock better than us?
Who not ready to run, but got two feet planted
like whose planet? Our planet
Bigger than the streets that we spill through kid
Bigger than the lies that they try to kill you with
It’s something like a phenomenon
My rhymebook like the necronomicon
While they blah blah blahin’ on and on
We got spirits ready to call upon, c’mon
Try and stop me
I’m somewhere between Brother Ali and Ed Bok Lee
Like a indie-rap Wolverine: I’m the best at what I do
but what I do is nice
So tell your favorite rapper think twice

Guante:
Picture me smilin’ on the cover of the Vita.MN
with two chains, boots, boomerang on my item list
I made it this far with only one heart
This is hardcore mode: we only got one life to live
So I’m a write to this light within, pencil in my iron fist
Flyin’ while they American Idolin’
You can’t decipher the cipher, that’s what a cipher is:
Always breaking, never broken; take it higher
It doesn’t take much and that’s messed up
They use the culture to stress and oppress us
But while everyone was tryin’ to censor the fire
I skipped flame, spittin’ out a mouthful of spiders
And you don’t think this is magic?
With one verse I can turn a curse to a classic
A spell to a song, or an incantation
to a taste of forever from your favorite station
Like, your potential is limitless
The mana bar’s full, so why you still swinging that little stick?
Knowin’ damn well you could unleash hell
if you found what you believed in and whispered it
into existence like a wizard spittin’ lightnin’ off of his lips
Don’t bite the bullet now and call it a kiss
‘Cause if your callin’ is this, better ball up your fists
Thick skin, carry a blade at all times
‘Cause every day is a mosaic of fault lines
And when the pain hits just taste that rawhide like RAH
Track Name: The Fourth Wall w/ Lydia Liza (Katrah-Quey Remix)
The day breaks through my third floor window, hard
A cell phone alarm in every shard
of sunlight, creepin’ through the cracks in my consciousness
A dream slips away, and I’m awake, like “damn”
Ain’t no snooze button for these birds
or the sense that sleep is something to be earned
Don’t forget that; a billion other people tryin’ to rise too
Stumble out of bed, the Pharcyde’s in my iTunes
Orange juice for breakfast
Grab my rhymebook, full of meeting notes and checklists
Maybe today I’ll have time to write a new song
if I freestyle my life, it’s like that
Sixteen bars into a bottle I can’t move on
Waitin’ for the waves to write back
and I can’t remember my dreams now, it’s be crazy to follow
They say “seize the day” …maybe tomorrow

Wake up in the morning sayin’ “break a leg”
because you know all the world is a stage
But if you could tear down the fourth wall
and talk to the audience, tell me what would you say?

Gotta pay these bills, still wonderin’ what my best option is
Drownin’ in a stream of class consciousness
So much respect to the janitors, props to the drivers
Peace to the teachers and survivors
of nine-to-five shellshock, combat fatigue
Overworked, underpaid, underclass battling
the evil not so much scary as monotonous
Every day an anticlimax, underwhelming apocalypse
We keep on spinnin’ and spinnin’ fully intendin’
to grip on to every minute and live it up to it’s limits
From beginnin’ to endin’ we get to livin’ and sinnin’
and slippin’ back into the grip of these material wishes
It got me wishin’ I could stop, and grab a hold
I ain’t trying to wake up tomorrow and be old
And I ain’t lazy, I like workin’
But they say “seize the day,” and I’m a night person

Wake up in the morning sayin’ “break a leg”
because you know all the world is a stage
But if you could tear down the fourth wall
and talk to the audience, tell me what would you say?

Sittin’ in the frame of the big picture
lookin’ out at every step I took in the story
I’ll seize the day with both hands finally,
knuckles bleedin’ freedom: good morning

Feet are calloused from the run
Looking back on what I was
I can feel how far I’ve come
I can feel that I’m not done

And still I can’t find the place where I woke up
Too busy feedin’ the cycle of seasons
breathin’ the poison that slowly chokes us
Cog in a machine and I’m fallin’ into a dream
And we’re drownin’ in our unconscious but I ain’t callin’ it sleep
My insomnia is hard-fought
‘cause I know the sooner I fall asleep,
sooner I’ll hear alarm clocks
Make ‘em all stop, whisper melodies of “no chance”
Watch the gladiators melt into a slow dance
And pain is tellin’ me to hold back
but I’ve seen too many faces in the night
spillin’ from the smokestacks
The time-clock is a time-bomb tickin’
we’re livin’ until we’re flipped inside a prison or a pine box
Why not? Smiling reflections in razor blades
but they won’t let me die; I ain’t got enough vacation days
says the manager, guilty, to the gallows with ‘em all
and I’m the janitor strugglin’ scrubbin’ shadows off the walls
Track Name: The Hero (prod. Big Cats)
Look up in the sky: it’s a bird, it’s a plane
It’s a person to save all we’ve made
It’s just your average everyday super-powered superhero
flyin’ through the sky and all tryin’ to save people
Faster than a bullet, tougher than a tank,
runnin’ like a train, nothin’ in his way; he’s come to save the day
from the evildoers and the villains fillin’ up the street,
the shepherd to stop the fox from killin’ all the sheep
A million on his beat, he watches the whole city as it sleeps
A guardian to keep the peace on the streets
The newspaper reads “a hero arises”
A new hope for a people in crisis
Evil is hidin’ and crime is down
something like twenty five percent; that ain’t no minor step
He won’t face the spotlight though, he keeps it humble,
silently watching over his concrete jungle…a hero

Everybody have no fear
Who we’re waiting for is finally here
to do what he needs to do
and make the city safe enough for me and you
Look up in the sky: it’s a bird, it’s a plane
It’s the one who’s going to save us

It was a dark night; it was the perfect crime
Makin’ the getaway, he thought he heard a guy
behind him, and suddenly he’s on the ground lyin’
his hands tied, and a man’s standin’ beside him

Well aren’t you the hero, arrive to the emergency
C’mon man, I stole a hundred dollars from a burger king
But the city’s safer I suppose
Well as long as I got caught, I want you to know:
Listen: I ain’t the bad guy; I’m just hungry
and minimum wage is not enough in this country
If you want to fight crime, but you don’t go for the roots,
well you can win every battle, but all in all you’ll lose
You see crime comes from poverty, lack of opportunity
and poverty is policy in too many communities
And yeah, you’re proud of all the thieves you’ve stopped
but dog, all the real thieves already made it to the top
And what you need to know, the real evil yo:
Politicians and CEOS
And you can catch every petty criminal like me
But can you put food on the table of a starving family?
Can you get my job back at the factory?
Or healthcare for my mama’s sickness that she’s battling?
War, poverty, environmental catastrophe:
those are the crimes, why the hell you after me?

Everybody have no fear
Who we’re waiting for is finally here
to do what he needs to do
and make the city safe enough for me and you
Look up in the sky: it’s a bird, it’s a plane
It’s the one who’s going to save us

A month passed and the hero disappeared
and the people startin’ askin’ “what’s happenin’ here?”
Ski masks are down, they proceed with caution
And now crime is up, and the streets is talkin’
Did he leave his office? Is he gone for good?
Did he finally decide he did all he could?
Until one day, middle of autumn
leaves fallin’ the hero came back for a press conference

Ladies and gentlemen, people of the city
I’m sorry for my absence, really, I apologize
But all this time, I had to do some thinkin’
about the crimes that I did and didn’t authorize
Just call this a change of heart,
or better yet a change of perspective
See I’m a change directions
And I know fightin’ crime is hectic
but I see now: the police don’t fight the real evil, they protect it
And I’m sick of pretendin’
that only poor people have bad intentions
Yes I fight crime, and I intend to beat it
‘cause I will fight the conditions that created it and feed it
And there’s some evil here I can feel it
and I’m not going to rest ‘til it’s defeated, believe it
So if you’ll excuse me I got to fly out
See, I got some business at the White House
Track Name: Break w/ Kristoff Krane (prod. Big Cats)
Guante:
The new kid has a belly full of fireworks
and this school has no shortage of sparks
That new kid was me, five times in five years,
with a smile like kindling, skin like dry bark
and flint in my heart; every day was inferno;
90 college-ruled black pages in my journal
Redacted, redacted, redacted
No surprise that I learned how to write with matches
No surprise that I learned how to burn in silence
No surprise what I learned I ain’t learn in classes
Just learned a few words like magic
Learned there’s a rebirth in every urn of ashes
Let those fireworks be your paintbrush
Thin line between arsonist and artist
That fire inside can burn everything down,
but it can also light your way through the darkness

Migrate, instinct, surface, searching
deeper, we dig, seed emerging
teacher, student, secrets, perfect
eager, nervous, dream big

Kristoff Krane:
It’s just another closed door on the old invisible me
Character flawed by the ghost that lives in my genes
So sore in the bones, so soar in the sky
Stone cold to the touch, so bored I could cry
me, me me me me me a river
through a mountainside, my oh my make me remember
what it’s like to shiver in the pits of December,
the center of the circle of influence I surrender
to, to the flame that I bow to:
it told me to be silent, so I screamed; it was sound-proof
Raindrop, butterfly, chaos, chameleon
Environment shaped, different colors disobedient
Yeah, and I’m tryin’ to act my age,
back pressed tight against the wall of a cave
Birthdate states 1983, that means I’m twenty-eight
point-six-five-four-two-thirty-nine billion years away
from my birth place; stayin’ on this earth takes time
willpower by the urge of survival,
king of the hill, kill or be killed;
they tell me like that’s the only way to fly out of bird cage
I’ll sing my heart out ‘til I’m in shock
Put the key in the lock; I’d rather clip my wings
than fly in a lost flock, who fights dirty,
in flight searching, for a surface that’s perfect

Wash me ‘til I’m clean of what I’ve done
Hold me like you need someone to love
Kick me like a habit I’m a drug
Fix me ‘til I break what you made up
Wash me ‘til I’m clean of what I’ve done
Hold me like you need someone to love
Kick me like a habit I’m a slave
Fix me ‘til I break what you made up

Guante:
An open letter to myself at fifteen, fallin’
Don’t wait to grow wings or nothin’ just hit the ground runnin’
The pit of your stomach is a star collapsing
Your fist is a lit wick, far from lasting
so act, a little known fact:
everything is flammable if you got the right kind of match
So if you find a rough patch in your life it’s
just another place you can strike it
We’re all capable of so much
We’re all waiting for a sign that’s never going to show up
We’re all made from the same dust
We’re all convinced that it’s paydirt, can you blame us?
We’re all lasers pointed at the sky
Like any one of us can hit it, but can you make it ignite?
We might be prepared to lose,
but we are also prepared to fight, let’s go

Wash me ‘til I’m clean of what I’ve done
Hold me like you need someone to love
Kick me like a habit I’m a drug
Fix me ‘til I break what you made up
Wash me ‘til I’m clean of what I’ve done
Hold me like you need someone to love
Kick me like a habit I’m a slave
Fix me ‘til I break what you made up

Guante:
An open letter to my enemy: you are stronger than I’ll ever be
and I don’t measure up in any way that you can measure me
So take my lunch money, and take the love from me
and replace it with hate ‘til I break, but I’m done running
Whatever the better measure of strength,
a bully ain’t nothin’ but a nosebleed
Though if it were as simple as keeping your head up,
a lot of brothers and sisters wouldn’t never have left us
How do you miss this?
Nine suicides in two years in one school district
They say kids will be kids
I say bigots will be bigots; their kids will be just as ignorant
But we are a community
and stand together when it’s not right, and not fair
If you want to change the world, change yourself
just don’t think for a minute you can stop there
Track Name: Lightning w/ Chastity Brown (prod. Big Cats)
I was struck by lightning.
Not as a figure of speech; I was literally struck by lightning.
It smells like a hospital on fire,
like the cleanest smoke you can imagine,
like spring water pulled apart by the atoms.
It smells like recycled air on a airplane crashing.
What are the odds? It didn’t give me superpowers,
so I guess I got to take my chances

with small talk, weather reports and high traffic,
with time clocks, and time bombs, and time passing.
When I’m not here any more will my planet
even notice my absence?
I swear, some days are like carvin’ your name into the capitol
with just your fingernails while the politicians laugh at you,
and some days are worse.
I want to leave a legacy so you’ll remember me for more than this verse, please:

hold your applause.
Hold it forever.
There is so much that keeps us apart,
and so little that holds us together.
But whatever that is we’re going to need it.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
And it only gets better when we do better.
And we only do better when we fuse together, yes:

there is no progress without struggle,
whether you’re a activist or just a kid in some trouble.
A student graduating with debt, a single mother distressed,
A little brother repressed, dripping the sun as it sets
into a habit hidden under the bed,
while four walls echo something I said;
when dark clouds gather, remember to just fight back;
not everyone can be touched or struck like that

and survive.
But you did.
You still got a spark inside,
so use it.
See, I’ve learned a little bit about energy.
I’ve learned when it enters you, it loses charge.
So the negative and positive are worth the same amount:
the passion and the pain, the smiles and the scars.

Whether you lost your job or won the lottery,
that energy enters you like a lightning bolt,
and no matter how dark its origin,
once it’s inside you, it’s yours to control.
So what this means, is that those
who’ve been through the most have the most to let go.
There is strength in our anger, power in our pain,
even beauty in the hourglass’ grains.

It all depends on how we use it.
Some people make music. Some people make excuses.
Some people make enemies. Some make-believe.
Some people make the most of every tragedy.
And me, well I just want to make a scene.
Ain’t going to patiently wait for my pain to bury me.
Ain’t going to waste all this energy chasing popularity
or prosperity; I’d rather stand tall in solidarity

with everyone we’ve lost, because they’re never lost,
and every one of y’all who stay forever strong,
and we’ll build basslines out of thunder,
rap to the rhythm of the rain, and dance on the little bit of space
that we have and build something lasting
as the empire’s collapsing.
And when they ask me to come along quietly,
I’ll say how can I quit? I got lightning inside of me.

Chastity Brown:
I was there, I confess
Wind was shakin’
time was movin’
ever slowly; I was there
on the floor, saw the door,
grabbed the page, wrote some more,
found the rage, wrote a score;
I was there when lightning broke
I was there when lightning broke
Track Name: Dragons (New Convert Remix)
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be alright
and I ain’t sayin’ to settle,
I’m sayin’ love is all learnin’ to see it right, right?
And lord knows the situation is tainted
but I can’t imagine amateurs takin’ your place it
ain’t no fairy tale, and baby I ain’t slayin’ no dragons
‘cause maybe, I’m in love with one
And together we can terrify the villagers
and burn their homes down;
profound how we run amok
And yo something’s up here, it’s a spark clear in the darkness
Regardless of fightin’ we’re still far from dividin’
One heart in defiance to science and common sense
We don’t belong together, I see it, but I ain’t gone yet
And neither are you, it’s that attraction
Dancin’ to the aftermath, music loud, laughin’
I’m glad that you’re fine with me
It ain’t the song that played on our first date but it’s kinda pretty

A match made in heaven doesn’t burn right
Destiny doesn’t pay the rent
And I don’t remember all the words to the song,
but I believe in them a hundred percent
A match made in heaven doesn’t burn right
Destiny doesn’t pay the rent
And I don’t remember all the words to the song…

We will meet in the middle of the riot
We will meet in the free falling plane
We will meet in a dark little corner of hell
We will meet one another halfway
We will meet in the warzone
We will have the time of our lives
We will push our hospital beds together
We will meet as the meteor ignites the sky

So one two, one two
It’s like one for every dream that ain’t gon’ never come true
and two for me and you, it’s love but it’s luck too
Sayin’ it through misery and gritted teeth: I love you
Everything we’ve come through, memories are heaven sent
All the bad made the good all the more resonant
And I ain’t hesitant to say it
This relationship’s a monster I’m confident we created
And these last days, remind me that your spirit never faded
When facin’ a breakin’ point: made a choice
Right brain tellin’ you that we should make love
Left brain tellin’ you that we should break up
and just stay in bed choosin’ not to wake up
Wrapped in the daybreak, no one to save us
Floatin’ away but never reserved
I’ll keep singing our song, even if I can’t remember the words

A match made in heaven doesn’t burn right
Destiny doesn’t pay the rent
And I don’t remember all the words to the song,
but I believe in them a hundred percent
A match made in heaven doesn’t burn right
Destiny doesn’t pay the rent
And I don’t remember all the words to the song…

We will meet in the middle of the riot
We will meet in the free falling plane
We will meet in a dark little corner of hell
We will meet one another halfway
We will meet in the warzone
We will have the time of our lives
We will push our hospital beds together…
Track Name: A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution (Graham O'Brien Remix)
I’m fightin’ on until my life is gone,
even when my version of health insurance
is orange juice and tiger balm,
even when my attention is so divided
between rappin’ and writin’ and activism and survivin’
And at any given time, so many of us are new to this,
but you ain’t got to stop listenin’ to Ludacris
And you ain’t got to dress a certain way,
ride your bike in wintertime,
shop at the co-op or ever turn away
from who you really are; this movement doesn’t need perfect
it just needs us to start workin’
“Radical” means you have hope,
and sometimes you vote for it,
most of the time, though, you don’t
So this is for the ballot, the bullet, the bulletin and the boycott,
for the hand-to-hand, and the door to door
More and more, it’s growin’ in popularity;
we don’t say “peace,” we say “solidarity”

With this many hands we could start a fire
With this many hands we could start a war
With this many hands we could build something beautiful
With this many hands we could do much more

I got a friend who ran for city council and he got elected
I got a friend who ran for school board and got rejected,
but in the process, learned about the process,
wrote a couple grants, now she runs a non-profit
I got a friend who never went to college,
but knows the first and last names
of everyone in his housing project
It starts with the basics;
I got another friend who throws parties in his basement
And basically, that’s just the baseline:
Power is a hundred people in the same place at the same time
Right? But what you are going to do with it?
I got a friend who knows what the revolution is,
and knows that though the music is beautiful,
it’s the people that it brings together who are better,
and the senators and representatives will only bend
to the will of the real changemakers: my friends

With this many hands we could start a fire
With this many hands we could start a war
With this many hands we could build something beautiful
With this many hands we could do much more

Shout to Howard Zinn
Have you ever seen the world through a bomb sight?
Have you ever prayed through a darkness beyond night?
This song might be a bunker-buster, daisy-cutter,
thermobaric American, crazy proletarian
But when you boil in the belly of the beast it’s scary,
so hack out by any means necessary
They’re going to call it “terrorism” either way,
so you can run for the clear, or give ‘em something to fear
C’mon, and I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout bombs
I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout Bibles, Torahs or Qurans
I’m talkin’ ‘bout the god that lives in your feet
when you’re walking,
the god that lives on your lips while you’re talking,
the god that lives in your fist when you fight for
something worth fighting for
This whole life is war, and the first step to victory:
like Toki Wright said: “know the history”
An injury to one is an injury to all, understand me
They step up to your cousin, you run and go get your family
So when they step to you on some realness,
you got the whole city risin’ up, climbin’ up that double helix
Your job is to protect your family; and your family is everyone
Power to the people: give it a chance
‘cause it’ll work; it’s the only thing that ever has
Track Name: Spirit Bomb (See More Perspective Remix)
I never did the graffiti thing; she just did it in spurts
like every few months she’d get to feelin’ the urge
and then she’d disappear leavin’ her purse at my place
with a backpack full of pilots and spraypaint
And I never went with her, I just figured that
little act of throwin’ a tag up was similar to therapy,
a spiritual journey for just a little bit of clarity
in a world full a heartbreak and insincerity
Apparently I was right; she’d tell me stories
of how peaceful the city was at that time of night,
how shadows crept up from the deep city streets
and splashed up on the walls
while the people would sleep
And she’d frequently speak of the need to release energy,
and I loved to hear everything, see
I had walls all around me, and I can’t say enough
to thank her: she couldn’t knock ‘em down,
but she tagged ‘em up

One for the root, two for the tree,
three to infinity for all of the leaves
We let go and float on a fall breeze,
and drop when we hear that beat
See it goes like one for the root, two for the tree,
three to infinity for all of the leaves
We let go and float on a fall breeze,
and drop when we hear that beat

And we didn’t stay together but we left on good terms;
stood firm, both knew it just wasn’t gonna work
I’ve just always had a thing for artists;
regardless of other circumstances, the art was romantic
My heart was attracted to lost souls, how come?
Well with us, ain’t no such thing as a found one
We drifted, to connect to something deeper
whether painted on a wall or bumped through speakers
like, another day, another tag, another rap,
another chance to touch someone in ways
that even lovers can’t
And that’s as real as it gets; now my sleepin’ is stressed
when writer’s block got me feelin’ depressed
but we press on, ‘cause someone’s got to write these songs,
and a bare wall without life is wrong
So every time I see her four letters I remember:
that grafitti fades, and songs can’t play forever
but they don’t have to, they never really did
See this is not another sad song
and for whatever it’s worth, I’ll still see her tag
long after all my walls are gone

And it goes like one for the root, two for the tree,
three to infinity for all of the leaves
We let go and float on a fall breeze,
and drop when we hear that beat
It goes one for the root, two for the tree,
three to infinity for all of the leaves
We put our names on the walls,
and our hearts on our sleeves
and we drop, we drop
Track Name: One of These Mornings (Big Cats Remix)
I walk to work in the mornings
yeah that’s right, a nine-to-five to supplement
the little earned from performin’
Verse to the chorus, meat to the dessert; this work
is worth ten minutes walkin’ all immersed in words
I’d meditate, but see I kind of love that chaos
I got wings, but I ain’t in no rush to take off
And you ain’t got to wonder what my angle is:
not quite a hero, but more than a protagonist
Tryin’ to relearn my language by listenin’
and talkin’ out what my mission is
Let me talk to April, on her way to class,
thinkin’ ‘bout a way to pass
when tuition is risin’ high and she’s fadin’ fast
Let me talk to Kevin at the corner store
about everything we’d do if we had only had a quarter more
Let me talk to my grandfather,
even though I know what he’s going to say
I’d like to hear it anyway
‘cause one of these mornings
you’re going to rise up singing

Let me talk to myself, and let ‘em stare I don’t care
Let me talk to the walking biography; that’s Javier
Nineteen, self-educated, laughin’ at college
Readin’ Wretched of the Earth, writin’ raps in the margins
Let me talk to that aspirin’ artist
and warm my hands on the fire that’s started
Let me talk to Rianna: pretty voice, wants to sing,
but her parents keep saying:
graduation, then marriage, then baby carriage
then what? Let me talk to the person who ends up
at some dive bar listenin’ tippin’ her ten bucks
And though we ain’t that close,
let me talk to God—just allow a couple minutes to pass
We don’t always get along ‘cause I’m livin’ so fast
but he likes me ‘cause I ain’t always kissin’ his ass
And let me talk to Tommy
We don’t talk much, so I’m a just say sorry, and I’ll tell him that
one of these mornings
you’re going to rise up singing

And one of these mornings, I swear I’m gonna figure out
how to catch your eye with my light before it flickers out
‘Cause I can live without the fortune and the riches
as long as when I die I leave a corpse that made a difference
Let my pallbearers be six ex-girlfriends
who kept in touch and stayed on good terms ‘til the end
And everyone I’ve ever talked to will either be in attendance
or waitin’ for me at the entrance
Because I wish I had the courage to say more
to every single stranger that I’ve met at every airport
but I’m scared or just shy of where our stories intersect it’s
me in these three minutes and forty one seconds
Freedom in connection, blessed to even taste it
‘Cause life ain’t short, it’s just a lot of people waste it
and I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep my mouth shut
Rise up and sing a song right or wrong ‘cause
one of these mornings
you’re going to rise up singing
Track Name: This is the Opposite of a Suicide Note (Graham O'Brien Remix)
I met the devil in the Midwest,
dressed like a promoter, floatin’ on the limelight,
eyes like supernovas,
his shoulders: the Minneapolis skyline
Needless to say, I turned the opposite way,
not welcoming tomorrow today;
I mean I gotta relay a legacy before they off me
I am not tryin’ to leave yet, I am not sorry
So I’ll assemble an army of rappers
and spoken-word poets and activists and dancers
and yeah, they’ll be half an hour late,
but they’ll show up eventually
and each will have a chapter
And after the manuscript we’ve built is assembled,
I’ll scribble on the last page “dedicated to the devil”
Book’s heavy as religion embedded in blacktop;
first page, eighty two point font in caps lock, screamin’
This is the opposite of a suicide note;
pin it to your chest, sing it under your breath,
tattoo it to your children, graffiti the fortress,
scrawl it on the tip of every nuclear warhead
Said this is the opposite of a suicide note;
let it raise the fallen, call to arms, instill fear
Let my life be as jagged as my penmanship
‘cause shit, if you’re hearin’ this now, it means I’m still here
And my advice is to love your life,
and if you don’t have a reason, keep breathin’ out of spite
‘Cause that’s a form of self-love too;
some days I fight just so I can tell my demons “hey, fuck you”
This is the opposite of a suicide note;
my roots too deep in this earth to move
I made allies of axes, friends out of chainsaws,
so how the hell you gon’ tell me to take off?
I’m a stay on the table ‘til after the eight ball
sinks for the last hustler’s pay off,
drinks on the house then
and then we’ll slide out with the bubbles
in the champaign fountain
‘Cause this is the opposite of a suicide note
If I’ve ever said anything right, make it this
make a fist for something bigger than a paystub;
dedicate this to everyone who never gave up
even in the face of oblivion, we crack a half smile and
daps to the fallen, songs through the silence
And in the rain, never put the hoodie up; we stay fresh
want to feel every drop to the depths
So yes, let’s assemble an army of teachers
and homeless children and union organizers,
cops and drug dealers, prostitutes and preachers
and factory workers and students and truck drivers
and doctors and soldiers and mothers and ghosts
and everyone can add their own chapter
And after the devil comes for me, with a smile and a receipt,
and pockets like black holes as wide as they are deep,
I’ll hook my arms inside yours and tell him sorry
This is my poetry; this is my army
We stand together, and live every word we wrote
All I got to say, is “not today”
This is the opposite of a suicide note
Track Name: Revolver w/ Claire de Lune
She is standing just outside a doorway
She is watching the old road to the sea
She is closing her eyes
She is saying goodbye in a language that she doesn’t speak
She is reaching, it is dawn, it is dusk it is pitch black
It is raining still from a cloudless sky
The stars burn bright in the afternoon blue
The moon’s waxing and waning, it’s full, it is new
it is falling… She is calling out a name
A chorus in her throat a thousand sounds overlapping
Every name she has lost along the way
Every face she will lose in the future she is standing
alone, with a child, with an in-law with a village
in a desert, in a suburb, in the snow
Alone once again, they are coming to take her boy away,
so away he’ll go

I just want to love you right
I just want to love you right
I just want to love you right
Why’s that such a crime?

She is standing just inside a doorway
She can still taste the salt in his name
She is African, Asian, American, European
although her hands are always the same
She is praying to gods and angels that flicker
in and out of existence, to spirits that laugh
How many wars has it been? How many prayers
like paper boats drifting to never come back?
They have taken him to fight
in forests in deserts in oceans in jungles in towns
With a spear, with a bow, with a sword, with a rifle
with a computer, it’s the future that’s mowing him down
The past is chewing on his leg; the present is licking it’s lips
She is thinking of him all alone
Once again, they are coming to take her boy away,
so away he’ll go

It ain’t going to work out,
yeah I’ve known it from the start
Just ‘cause you know it with your mind,
don’t mean you know it with your heart
And I just want to love you right
I just want to love you right
I just want to love you right
Why’s that such a crime?

She is standing away from the door now
He is sleeping in a back room, heavy
They are creeping up the road like daylight
just as they have a million times already
But she remembers her trembling hands now
She remembers his million faces
So many sons, extinguished for what?
They are serving for words they have never tasted
She is holding her heart in her hands now
Each chamber is full, it is cold
She remembers this story but knows
that it changes a little every time it is told
She remembers the knock on the door
The morning is dead, its ashes are scattered
Once again, they are coming to take her boy away,
so she cocks the hammer

I just want to love you right
I just want to love you right
I just want to love you right
Why’s that such a crime?
Track Name: A Pragmatist's Guide to Faith
This is the art of drawing breath,
of making visible what has been invisible.
This is a pragmatist’s guide to faith.
This is singing when you don’t know how to pray.

Welcome to this space; know that you are not welcome here.
We are all trespassers; we are not welcome here.
This universe would like nothing more than for you to not exist,
and the proof is in the history you live; tell me this:
what are the odds that this planet would appear
in just the right place, with the right atmosphere and geology?
What are the odds that life would suddenly spark
in the darkness, from the carcass of this planet to a colony?

What are the odds that this anomaly would spread?
What are the odds it would survive and stay ahead
of volcanic eruptions, meteorites and earthquakes;
the first drum, first beat, first rhythm, first break,
first time the notes broke to form a system?
You could hear the first melody, the first multi-celled organism.
What are the odds this first environment to harbor life
would meet another; maybe fight or maybe harmonize?

But either way it would evolve.
So what are the odds it would evolve to walk and not crawl?
To fly but not fall? To survive every single mass extinction?
What are the odds of your existence?
How many generations did it take to make you?
How many plagues, wars and massacres conspired
to uproot your family tree and salt the earth around it?
How many ancestors carried your fire?

How many farmers made it through the famine?
How many runaway slaves got away?
How many soldiers conscripted deserted?
How many times did that chain almost break?
How did your great-great-grandparents meet?
What was the song playing when you were conceived?
Is it inconceivable: the happenstance inherent in
this life you have inherited?

Some see the elegant complexity of bodies,
or the natural beauty of the planet and they say it’s godly.
There’s got to be divine intelligence behind it all
because the odds that you would make it on your own are so small.
But me? I see millennia trying to murder you.
I see a thousand generations of pain and fear.
I see struggle inscribed into your skeleton.
And I see you still here.

Ancestor armor. Star-crossed survivor.
An unwelcome guest in a hostile environment.
Defiance is your birthright, fire from the first time
you drew breath, a smile on your face.
Welcome to this space; know that you are not welcome here.
We are all trespassers; we are not welcome here.
So if our drawing breath is blasphemy, sin or treason,
let’s keep drawing breath until there’s nothing left to breathe in.
We are the codes that our ancestors still speak in.
Track Name: The Family Business
Jackie’s been here for twenty-five years and he tells me: you get used to it. He says your nose learns to seal itself when you dive headfirst into an ocean of dust; your eyes develop nictitating membranes to keep the chemical sprays out; and your hands… they will grow their own gloves, invisible and tough and permanent.

I’ve been a janitor for three weeks and I thought I was made of stronger materials.

We play chess in the breakroom. Jackie asks me what my favorite piece is. I say the pawn because, you know, he’s the underdog; the odds are against him. Jackie identifies with the pawns too, but he finds nobility in their sacrifice, he sees beauty in their simplicity, in the fact that they’re always moving forward.

Jackie shambles from room to room, moving half as fast as me but somehow getting twice as much done. The night shift will mess with your head like that. Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen.

Sometimes I see that face and imagine we are the servants entombed alive with the pharaoh, polishing someone else’s gold while our oxygen runs out, dutifully preparing a grand feast for a god who will never be hungry.

But Jackie tells me that there is honor in this. A good day’s work. An honest living. That there is poetry in this.

But what kind of poetry lives in a can of orange naturalizer, the liquid breath of dragons? The mist dissolves every word creeping up my throat, overwhelms every idea.

They got me wiping my reflection from the glass, scrubbing the shadows off the walls. They got me so scared of my alarm clock that I can’t fall asleep any more, even when my muscles drain out from under my fingernails, my thoughts stream out of my ears, and I am left with nothing but two eyes that refuse to close for fear of what they might see. Is there really honor in this?

Or is that abstract notion the carrot they dangle in front of us pawns to move us across the board?

Jackie tells me you can’t think about it like that. He says that without us, the people who live and work in this building couldn’t function, that we keep the gears turning, and that it might not be glamorous, but it’s necessary.

And of course: he’s right. And maybe I am just a working class kid who somehow hustled my way into college and got delusions of grandeur. Maybe now I’m “too good” to go into the family business: a hundred generations of janitors and farmers and infantry and factory workers and pawns.

So I suck it up… and last for two more months. And on my final day, before a very uncertain future, I make a point to shake Jackie’s hand, and I say:

I’ve been thinking, man. I think the reason pawns can’t move backwards is because if they could, they’d kill their own kings in a heartbeat.

Instead, we are forced to keep moving, believing we can get to the other side and become royalty ourselves, but most likely dying on the way there, sacrificed for a cause we don’t even understand. I wish you… I wish you the best, man. I wish you horses and castles.

Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen,
and disappears into his work.
Track Name: The Spill (Love in the Time of Zombies)
They fell upon us softly: leaves rustling around land mines, a blade buried in wet soil. Starving for the essence of our love, they enveloped us—first a few haunted homes on the outskirts of town, then into the proud city itself, then spreading like a spilled can of burgundy paint across the map, swallowing.

Appetites attached to talons, blue-white fangs in children’s mouths. Wine, always escapes its cup, one way or another. We should have seen it coming, but when they appeared, pale and shrieking on the horizon, the might of ten thousand years of cups and dishes and goblets shattered, and the spill drowned every dream ever dreamt.

But you. I found you treading water regardless—as invincible as canned food and two by fours. I found you exploding, brimstone on yours lips, tattooed with a fury as warm as the sun used to be. I found you beautiful: shaved head, Kevlar, bare hands. You cut them down. You broke them. You found knives between your knuckles and war clubs inside your leg bones.

I still remember how the ghost of a smile flickered across your eyes when you leaned in close and whispered to me:

Take the shotgun. I want the fireman’s axe. I want to feel it. I want to feel them beneath it.

I knew then that I wanted to be with you for whatever forever we had left. Knew that we were to share an ancient love, a love bonded with flint and bone, that our skulls now carried within them a shining new darkness: twin oblivions monogrammed “his” and “hers.”

Our first date: fireballing through hordes of the undead, dull silver eyes and ragged hands reaching, screams bisected. Every gunshot a climax, every swing of that axe a bedroom’s liquid whisper.

In the blackness I smelled your humanity and aimed in the opposite direction. Love, warm and grasping, splashed against the walls; love splashed onto our bodies; love splashing inside of us defiantly.

And I found you in this smoking chaos; our shoulder blades kissed.

There may come a day when the sun bursts from the spider’s belly to smile upon this world again. There may come a day when love can be represented by poetry, and romantic comedies, and candlelight dinners again; when it can be held, soft and round, in the palm of a child’s hand.

But it is not on us to build that world. It is not on us to survive this one. Ours is not a love song sprouted from redemption, hope or even longing.

But it is a love song.

Sing it under your breath.

Sharpen it every morning.

If you should fall, I swear I’ll come for you: two barrels erupting as one, an aluminum baseball bat strapped to my back, a pocketful of hand grenades, singing, pins already pulled.
Track Name: REACH
1. On the first day of school, we make a list of the characteristics of a good poet. But this is not a poem about poetry, so all of the desks are empty, iPod earbuds dangling like dead flowers. I am alone at the chalkboard, and there is only one bullet point on that list: not talent, not hard work, not education— ambition.

2. We are speedometers; usually cruising along at 20 miles per hour. A surprise birthday party bumps you up to 30. A car accident, maybe 40. Being shot at: 200. Most of us live our lives between zero and sixty. What do you think a thousand tastes like?

3. My grandfather hates it when people use the word “awesome” to describe things that are barely above average. Like did you see that episode of Glee last night? It was awesome, or this new Drake song is awesome, or honeycrisp apples are the most awesome apples there are.

God is awesome, my grandfather would say. And he is not religious.

4. Make no mistake: this is a holy war. Beams shot from death rays into satellites and back down. Propaganda lining our cages. Six billion fingers on the button.

5. I paid five dollars. Fifteen empty bar stools. A singer knee-deep in the stage. And if she were just a little more pretty and a little less beautiful, we’d swallow her, smiling; we’d hang her in constellation.

Confuse us with gibberish and we’ll call you visionary. Repeat to us the slogans we already agree with and we’ll call you revolutionary. Make some noise.

She understands, that it is no difficult thing to convince 100 people to scream, that it is no victory to entertain children with sugar water and magic tricks, that it is nothing to pry a smile from the soft, dull face of America.

But she does not want our smiles. She wants to dig into the wet, grey wilderness behind them.


6. An artist—and whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all artists—is one part clown and one part cleric. Our work is one part entertainment and one part revelation.

We are all foot soldiers in the war between giving the people what they want and giving the people something they don’t yet know they want. Between Facebook and face. Between voting once every four years and putting your name on the ballot. Between writing a love poem and screaming that love poem in the Mall of America rotunda while she’s walking out of Forever 21. Between running away and running.

There is such a thing as awesome. It stalks in the deep, seldom-traveled back woods of culture. You might need a machete and flack jacket to get there. You might need to break a sweat. But it’s there.

So don’t paint my house white and tell me it’s heaven. Don’t bring me a sack of beans and tell me they’re magic.

Bring me magic. Paint every inch of our bodies heaven. On the first day of school, do not make a list of the characteristics of a good poet. Make a list of the people who will weep when you die.

7. We are speedometers. We are remote controls. We are dollars in tip jars in dive bars. We’ve seen what they have to offer. It’s great. It’s beautiful.

And it is not nearly enough.