“Whisper to me sweetly now”

Jann Arden’s “Unloved”

There will be no consolation prize
this time the bone is broken clean
no baptism, no reprise and no sweet taste
of victory. All the stars have fallen
from the sky
and everything else in between
satelites have closed their eyes, the moon
has gone to sleep


here I am inside a hotel choking on a
million words I said
cigarettes have burned a hole and dreams are
drunk and penniless
here I am inside my father’s arms
all jagged-bone and whiskey-dry
whisper to me sweetly now and tell me I will
never die

Lonely Landscape
Lonely Landscape

here I am an empty hallway
broken window, rainy night
I am nineteen sixty-two and I am ready
for a fight people crying hallelujah
while the bullet leaves the gun
people falling, falling, falling and I don’t know
where they’re falling from
are they

hoping that the kindness will lead us
past the blindness and
not another living soul will ever have to feel

The first time that I heard this song was several years ago, and it was as a duet with Jackson Browne. I found the words absolutely haunting because they could refer to so many things: 1962, the bullet leaving the gun, and the refrain of unloved . . . unloved . . . unloved. But the words that have always gotten to me the most are these: “here I am inside a hotel choking on a million words I said, cigarettes have burned a hole and dreams are drunk and penniless. Here I am inside my father’s arms all jagged-bone and whiskey-dry. Whisper to me sweetly now, and tell me I will never die.”

How many times have we choked on words we’ve said, but more than that, felt that our dreams have been left with a big old hole burned in them? Wouldn’t it mean everything if we had someone to hold us and tell us that everything is going to be okay and that we will never die even though we know it’s a lie? Sometimes we need the lie. Sometimes, after someone has just torn us apart with the truth, nothing would feel better than a lie, whispered sweetly in some foreign room that we don’t belong in so that we can pretend for just a moment that our life is something else, somewhere else. Because if we can let ourselves be blind to all of the pain that surrounds us for just one moment, just one pretend second after that bullet has already left the gun, then we can allow ourselves to feel the kindness, even if it isn’t real. Then we don’t have to feel unloved.

Sometimes, even when we are surrounded by love, by all of the people who love us, care for us, those who mean the most to us in our lives, we can still feel unloved. That is one of the great, tragic ironies in life: That in the midst of happiness, we can still feel lonely and unloved, if only for a moment. If you have never had one of these moments, then you cannot understand what I am describing, and you probably think that I am odder than usual. But if you have experienced one of these oddly, out of place moments, then you will understand the sadness of which I speak.

It is unsettling and disconcerting at best, and usually indicative of an impending low, which can be viewed in a number of ways:

  1. Oh shit, not again
  2. Maybe I’ll get a poem out of it this time
  3. Do I have a good stash of books?
  4. I wish that I had the stamina to go on a road trip
  5. How many days in a row can I wear this night shirt?

These are the things that I thing about, at least. But getting back to Jann Arden’s lyrics, I think that “Unloved,” is one of those songs that you absolutely cannot listen to unless you are feeling down or sad because it is just too intense, and god, I wish that I had written it. It really is crafted well. “Inside my father’s arms, all jagged-bone and whiskey dry”–I don’t know about you, but the phrase just gives me chills because it is too descriptive.

But I’ll say this about it, “Unloved” is the perfect song to listen to right after someone says “fuck you” to you because after all, what can be said after that?


“But I have promises to keep . . .”

The meaning of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the woods on a Snowy Evening” has long been debated because of what comes after the above: “and miles to go before I sleep.” Many scholars have contended that Frost was talking about suicide because of the use of the word “sleep,” with sleep long being associated with the image of death, especially by the romantic poets. But I have never read this particular poem with dark images in mind:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I have always loved this poem because I can relate to the imagery: a traveler stops in the woods for a moment to take in the beauty of the snow falling, the frozen lake, the gentle wind. I have been out on a snowy evening much like this when there was very little sound, just the crunch of my shoes in the snow. It was when I lived in Blacksburg years ago before it had grown, so there were still places where there was absolutely nothing around except trees. The snow had been falling all day, but by evening, it was falling lightly. It was beautiful. There were drifts; trees were covered. We walked up a hill and looked out and just watched the snow falling. It was hypnotizing. If there had been a horse and cart, he might have shaken his harness in impatience to move on because it was so easy to forget everything for a few minutes. It wasn’t terribly cold, and the wind wasn’t blowing, just a slight breeze now and again. I felt no need to move on, to be anywhere in particular. I just wanted to stand there and listen to the silence forever. Moments like these are stored in deep memory so as never to be forgotten.

As to the last two lines of the poem: an interlude in the woods with nature of this sort, pure, peaceful, uninterrupted, would be intoxicating and hard to leave. But if you must return to the realities of life, those who await you, those who depend upon you, those to whom you have made promises, then it is a shake of the head, and the realization that there are miles to go still before the warm bed and then sleep. And that is what I have always believed the last two lines to mean. The speaker could have stayed by the woods for hours, drinking in the beauty of the night, but at last, he had to put aside what he wanted, and return to reality and his duties, as mundane or as taxing as they might be.

Walking down that hill and returning to reality that night in Blacksburg was the last thing that I wanted to do. But there were people waiting for us, and we had promised to be somewhere, and even though sometimes promises become burdens that we just wish that we could ignore, we have made them, and so we must keep them. We spend years teaching our children this lesson, about honor, and how important their word is, how they must do what they have said they will do and follow through because it is the honorable thing. But oh, how much easier it would be sometimes to walk into those woods “lovely, dark and deep” and not look back.

I haven’t seen snow like that winter in many years, and I miss it. I miss the silence and stillness of snow. I miss looking out the window at night and seeing the blueness of the moon on the snow. I miss a lot of things, but that is one thing in particular that my heart has an ache for. Not the craziness of people driving in snow, or the wretchedness of bitter cold. Just the silence and the beauty of snow banked against trees and fences. Birdbaths frozen like small ponds. The snow in the cemetery, turning the stillness of the gravestones into beautiful statues: “downy flake” and “lovely.”