soundtrack project

As many of you who follow Writing Simply Is know, much of my poetry is intextricably linked to music and lyrics. This month, I will be launching an autobiographical project wherein I chronicle some of the most influential events of my life and the songs that are associated with my memories because they were playing during these moments. This is a sneak peak at the list.

  1. Unwinding Cable Car — Anberlin
  2. Day Late Friend — Anberlin
  3. Everything is Easy — Third Eye Blind
  4. Grey Sky Eyes — Carbon Leaf
  5. June Hymn — The Decemberists
  6. Always — Tyson Motsenbocker
  7. Name — Goo Goo Dolls
  8. Nothing Like You and I — The Perishers
  9. Best of Me — The Starting Line
  10. The Sun and the Moon — Mae
  11. Fragile N. 4 — Dustin O’Halloran
  12. Stay Young, Go Dancing — Death Cab for Cutie
  13. Black Flies — Ben Howard
  14. The Light — The Album Leaf
  15. Featherstone — The Paper Kites
  16. Remembering Sunday — All Time Low


it was in that little black
Honda Fit, after ten hours in the car
on the highway in the rain
and the music was on shuffle
I was scared of dentists and the dark
I was scared of pretty girls and starting conversations
Oh, all my friends are turning green
You’re the magician’s assistant in their dreams
and I still get a lump in my throat when I
hear Vance Joy because those words were never wrong
you were my riptide, dragging me out to sea
as I fought, ceaselessly against the current
when I ought to have drowned in you.

I saw three ships … ships, ships, ships.

I grew up thinking my family didn’t have Christmas traditions. Because I attended Catholic schools, nearly every year in mid-December whichever teacher I had would prompt my classmates and I to share holiday traditions that were unique to our families. My dad missed a lot of Christmases on deployment. Our celebrations always felt inconsistent. Sometimes we traveled; sometimes we stayed home. One year, we had a real tree; another we had a plastic tree. Once, we even had a two foot tall Charlie Brown tree. So it seemed that we didn’t have any “normal” traditions. When it came time for me to share in class, I always quietly replied, “We don’t really have traditions in my family. We just go to church and open presents.” It seemed sad.

Only now that my parents are planning to spend this final Christmas in the house they bought 15 years ago— the longest home I’d ever known — did I realize all the little quirks we had that were in fact traditions. While all my friends growing up had ritual, secret family recipes they cooked, ornate formal dinners with their grandparents, or elaborate Advent celebrations, we didn’t. I always felt left out. Tonight at 25, I realized that I had something different but perfect in its own rite.

On no particular date in December, we slip in Nat King Cole’s Christmas CD and my dad drags the massive box of decorations from the attic. The years he deployed, we made due with smaller displays, but we had Nat King Cole no matter what. There’s a scratch on the disc, and when “I Saw Three Ships” plays, it skips a bit, repeating “ships-ships-ships-ships” until you jiggle the CD player. We laugh at it, every time. It never gets old. This, this is a tradition.

We don’t have a special, regimented Christmas breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But my mom buys Pillsbury cinnamon rolls every year and puts them in the oven before anyone wakes up. We eat them, getting the sticky icing all over, while we exchange gifts. It’s a silly tradition, but it’s ours. We are an unorthodox family. My whole life I thought it meant we didn’t have traditions. But I know now that our tradition is being nontraditional.

As my parents prepare to sell the only home out of the eight or nine we had that I ever really loved, I am leaning into our nontraditional traditions. It may be the last time we celebrate in that house, but the glitchy Nat King Cole CD and Pillsbury cinnamon rolls are traditions that can, and will travel anywhere.


Strolling along under the Brooklyn Bridge and it’s
Illuminated by the effervescent glow of Wall Street as the East River laps against the docks
The wind a whisper of winter’s return, but the chill a welcome guest
I can taste the crisp in the air, made bitter by the silence of your call
But all that matter is the lights, colored little orbs that outline the path to Brooklyn, my new home
And though it’s evening, it dawns on me…

I don’t even know your favorite color.

the thing is,

here is the thing…
you’re in my head, my heart, my soul
it hurts the marrow in my bones

and maybe it’s not you at all
rather the idea of it —
love at first laugh, I mean.

It got to be so bad, didn’t it?
All the anger and fights
fleeing, and the time I yelled at you
to get the fuck out of my car.

But I mostly just remember instead
the silent way the snow fell as we
on the nineteenth of December.

it’s infinite

And this is my thought—

that I will die alone surrounded by cats
after a lifetime of watching as everyone around me is
enveloped in love and achievement
while I whither on the vine
a spinster, a hag, has-been who never really was.

So I’ve relived that sweltering June afternoon in Arlington Cemetery
a hundred times, maybe more
as we hiked the hill and saw Washington’s monument
eyes filled with tears, drenched in rain or sweat or both
and that day was hard but
filled with possibility
as I drove away from you, soonafter that city
sad, but confident thinking I’d never look back
… not once.

But I was 23 then, 25 now and in hindsight I know
when I drove away it was
without direction, speeding along
not bothering with maps
and here I am
floating in an infinite abyss.

mat kearney

when we were young we had
Nothing Left to Lose
another year older
now and the stakes are
raised, so you choose
lower the bar
lose all pretense
[I can still hear the trains out my window
From Hobart street to here in Nashville
I can still smell the pomegranates grow]
it’s reminiscence that keeps us alive.