Ghetto of Your Eye

Ghetto of Your Eye

A Veteran’s Day Remembrance

I wrote this song back in the winter of 1989 in the dining car of a steam driven train, somewhere along the Trans-Siberian railway, after meeting a group of Russian soldiers fresh from battle in Afghanistan—that poor country that has been a battleground for way too long–and, sadly, still is…

We stare together hours
at the snow whipped Russian plain—
rolling in the ghetto of your eye.
We share a quart of vodka
and some cold meat on the train—
you know too much to even wonder why;
I see it in the ghetto of your eye.

He turns to me and asks
if I’ll play a song about our war.
I know the war,
no need to tell me more—
asking with the ghetto of your eye.
So I play the most of Sam Stone,
in words he cannot understand;
still the tears fall as from a man—
falling from the ghetto of your eye.

I pass to him my guitar:‘Man, I know you’ll play a song;
something where nobody plays along—
no, nobody play along.’
His friends they gather ‘round
and put their arms around
the shoulders of the soldiers of the war,
their cold and crazy mountain war.

His song is barely spoken;
it’s more a whisper in the night:
whistles blow, trains pass each other by—
riding in the ghetto of your eye.
And Pasha, the young soldier,
whose strange and childish smile,
breaks down wailing like a child:
He tears his shirt; the shrapnel is all gone:
“Pasha, boy, the shrapnel it’s all gone—
Pasha boy, the shrapnel is all gone.”

Drunk to hell I leave,
and then I lay awake all night
waiting for the sunrise on the plain—
cold and snow-whipped Russian plain.
Songs of love and brotherhood
blow like rags of empty wind—
blowing through the ghetto of my eye;
building the ghetto of my eye;
staring from the ghetto.


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Life Ain’t Hard; Its Just a Waterfall

Life Ain't Hard--It's Just a Waterfall

by John Fitzsimmons | Fires in the Belly

You say, hey,
who are you to say that you’re the one
to go telling me just where I’m coming from.
You can have your cake
but don’t frost me ‘til I’m done.
I can’t be fixed and I can’t afford to stall;
because life ain’t hard it’s just a waterfall.

Sometimes it happens we,
we like to play the one-eyed fool,
so we can act like we don’t know what to do—
but it’s a sad-eyed mask
and it’s never really true;
I’ve seen you backstage at the hall,
trembling before the curtain call,
and you know life ain’t hard; it’s just a waterfall.

and you feel it how
it’s coming at you now
and you feel it how
it’s all around you now—
and you’re loving and you’re feeling
maybe mixed up
maybe stealing
a little time
I’m just amazed
that somehow we keep dealing…

You and me we spin, we drift
we’re daring to be free:
in a mirrored calm time echoes
like a sneeze—
just when you think it’s all a dream:
everything you are has already been,
just when you think you’ve seen it all
a boiling wind comes screaming in a squall
and you say life ain’t hard,
it’s just a waterfall—
yeah, life ain’t hard; it’s just a waterfall—
life ain’t hard; it’s just a waterfall.

 

 

Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by John Fitzsimmons | Fires in the Belly

It’s something I‘ve hardly ever thought of:
this simple and rattling old diesel
has always gotten me there and then some;
and so at first I think this sputtering
is just some clog, and easily explained:
some bad fuel maybe, from the new Exxon,
or just shortsightedness on maintenance.
I’ve always driven in the red before,
and these have all been straight highway miles —

(Except for that short trip out to Zoar Gap
to catch the last of the late season trout,
surprised to find them still rising, sipping
my high hackled Humpy’s and Coachman’s
from dark pools in glazed and shimmered twilight.)

But that was nothing and of no account.
I drove Tuesday down to the town meeting,
and argued about the new town landfill
and proposed cutbacks in school athletics,
and then to Sears for a fifteen amp fuse.

At any rate there is no way around it.
I can only smile sheepishly, glad
that I’m really not in any hurry.
Still I feel like a fool out flagging trucks,
gesturing for help I can’t give myself,
hoping that my lines don’t need to be bled,
and I would have to spend that time thinking
of some way to explain this empty tank
to someone who probably knows better:

You know I always thought that maybe
something like this could happen to me —
but not now, not yet.

 

 

Garden Woman

Garden Woman

by John Fitzsimmons | Fires in the Belly

I woke today and had my tea
and at the window spent the morning:
the same scene I’ve seen so many times
is each day freshly born;
from the ground I turn each spring and fall
come the flowers sweetly blooming;
you disappear among the weeds—
you are the garden woman.

Long ago you learned to know
the passing of the moons:
to pull the seeds before they’ve sprung
squirreled in bowls around the room.
I laugh to think how many times
I’ve tried to coax a dying flower
to give one more unfolding
to return some precious hour.

I love the hand that weaves the land
from sunshine knits to flowers;
who waters rows of thirsty souls
until they find their hidden power;
and the roots will hold and time will grow
and leave moss upon our stone;
and with every passing season
the mosaic of a home.

When you disappear the sun will bear
how the wind has shaped your beauty;
how in long walks through ancient woods
we stepped both sides of cruelty
but the tree’s that lean all mean to fall
to give space to free the breathing;
and working through the tangled land
where hope is filled with meaning.

Yeah, I woke today and saw the way
you see the light of morning;
from the ground that pulls us down
there’s a new life freshly born in.
From the ground I turn each spring and fall
let bloom with beauty blooming
the blessed weeds and bowls of seeds:
I love you garden woman.

Zenmo Yang Ni

I lost the time I hardly knew you,
half-assed calling:
“How you doing?
Laughing at my hanging hay field;
I never knew the time
that tomorrow’d bring,
until it brung to me.

Yuan lai jui shuo: “Zenmoyang ni?”
Xianzai chang shu: “Dou hai keyi”;
Xiexie nimen, dou hen shang ni.
Xiwang wo men dou hen leyi
Dou hen leyi

Dust has blown and snow has covered;
Shorter days been passed by longer,
Poplar trees have dropped their flowers
And spread them on the ground
And then the leaves unfold
Just like I told you so…

Chorus

Love you, damn you, see right through me.
Eyes are scared, a soul is healing.
Paint yourself a wall of feeling
And bring the world around
To the way you are;
It would be a better start.…

Chorus

Knowing time’s no great arranger
It’s getting hard to ‘see you later’;
I’ll never meet another stranger
Knowing there is something
That we all could know—
You got to let it go…

Yuan lai jui shuo: “Zenmoyang ni?”
Xianzai chang shu: “Dou hai keyi”;
Xiexie nimen, dou hen shang ni.
Xiwang wo men dou hen leyi
Dou hen leyi

This is my somewhat rough translation:
[Early on I just said, “How are you?
Now I always say, I’m doing awesome.
Thank you, both of you, you are in my heart
I hope we will always have happiness.]

*The folks in this song were a couple named Li Xin and Zhang Hong Nian. They were both artists in Beijing in the early 1980’s where I was attending the Beijing Teachers College. During winter break I tried to visit the parents of a friend of mine. They lived on a commune outside of Shanghai, but, as so often happened back then, my bus was stopped by security forces and I was not allowed to continue, as we were traveling through a “restricted area.” At that time in China, there was only a handful of Americans in the whole country. I didn’t have a lot of money to start with, and most of what I did have I spent on things like cigarettes, whiskey, peanut oil, and fabric to give as gifts. Since the police would not let me go to the commune, I foisted my huge bag of gifts on an old man who had met me in in Shanghai and was to be my guide. The Chinese passengers on the bus (mostly peasants and factory workers) harassed and berated the security men for being rude and petty and for not allowing me to see the all important state secrets: like how many water buffaloes they had in their district.

So, I had to go back to Beijing to a virtually empty campus. The great irony for me is that this rich American was pretty much broke with three weeks to kill (and survive) before school would start again. With no one to hang around with at school and precious little money to spend, I became something akin to a vagabond wanderer meandering the cold streets of Beijng in the winter. I remembered meeting a young a couple named Zhang Hong Nian and Li Xin very briefly earlier in the fall. They had an apartment in a concrete building just north of our campus. I found them, and they took me in with huge open arms. And so I hung out with them and their artist friends for the next couple of weeks.

It was a pretty cool time in my life: I helped Li Xin’s mother—a still fiery follower of Mao Zi Dong— open a hot dog stand; the first one in all of China. She railed against the communists who had lost their spirit. She told me passionate stories about her and her husband and The Long March. She took me to a secret disco she had organized in the warehouse district where a huge crowd was waiting for me (who would much rather be listening to Woody Guthrie) to show them how to dance disco style. I think it was my first experience in performance art. With my new friends, we walked the cold, dusty, and coal smoked streets of Beijing, eating yams cooked over fires in barrels and haggling for scarce chicken and cabbage. I met Chinese poets and writers and thinkers who somehow managed to survive and smile amidst a completely humorless political system. I sat with Zhang Hong Nian for a complete day as he changed a scene in one of his paintings from farmers with sun baked faces to coal miners loading coal into carts (smiling of course). The party officials who had commissioned the painting thought the sun baked faces implied that the farmer’s lives were too hard.

I lived enormously because of their friendship. Li Xin had a wisdom and sincerity that remains unmatched by any other in the thirty years since I spent that time in China. She knew—she simply always knew. It was never that she had an opinion about something. She just spoke directly from her heart— softly, humbly, with a smile if it needed to be tempered, or with an icy directness if it was a truth that had to stand.

I apologize if a native speaker of Chinese hears me singing the chorus of this song. As it was, I had a hard enough time speaking a full sentence much less find a way to make them rhyme. I spent an awesome and inspiring year in China from 1981-82. I went back again in 1989 and spent a good part of the winter in Beijing, but left a couple of months before Tiananmen. Things had changed. I had changed. Li Xin had died from cancer. Zhang Hong Nian moved to New York.

It was eerie for me as I knew that the whole scene in Tiananmen would end badly. I learned from my artist friends eight years earlier about the tenuous balance between freedom and survival. I knew that the same leaders were still in power, and that they would not flinch in the face of a challenge. But political leaders seldom listen to artists. If they did, it would have ended differently: Li Xin would have found the middle ground and pointed to the truth all around them. Zhong Hong Nian would have painted flowers bursting out of the guns. It might have ended differently.

If any of my old friends from those days find this song, just let me say: Xiexie nimen: thank you all again.

 

Ghetto of Your Eye

Ghetto of Your Eye

by John Fitzsimmons | Fires in the Belly

I wrote this song back in the winter of 1989, in the dining car of a steam driven train, somewhere along the Trans-Siberian railway, after meeting a group of Russian soldiers fresh from battle in Afghanistan—that poor country that has been a battleground for way too long.

We stare together hours the snow whipped Russian plain—
rolling in the ghetto of your eye.
We share a quart of vodka
and some cold meat on the train—
you know too much to even wonder why;
I see it in the ghetto of your eye.

He turns to me and asks
if I’ll play a song about our war.
I know the war,
no need to tell me more—
asking with the ghetto of your eye.
So I play the most of Sam Stone,
in words he cannot understand;
still the tears fall as from a man—
falling from the ghetto of your eye.

I pass to him my guitar:
‘Man, I know you’ll play a song;
something where nobody plays along—
no, nobody play along.’
His friends they gather ‘round
and put their arms around
the shoulders of the soldiers of the war,
their cold and crazy mountain war.

His song is barely spoken;
it’s more a whisper in the night:
whistles blow, trains pass each other by—
riding in the ghetto of your eye.
And Pasha, the young soldier,
whose strange and childish smile,
breaks down wailing like a child:
He tears his shirt; the shrapnel is all gone:
“Pasha, boy, the shrapnel it’s all gone—
Pasha boy, the shrapnel is all gone.”

Drunk to hell I leave,
and then I lay awake all night
waiting for the sunrise on the plain—
cold and snow-whipped Russian plain.
Songs of love and brotherhood
blow like rags of empty wind—
blowing through the ghetto of my eye;
building the ghetto of my eye;
staring from the ghetto.

 

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