Heaven or Hell or Wherever

by Chris Schoen

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1.
Under a sky that’s pallid and dim Peevish life jumps and squirms for no reason Impudent, noisy and heavy of limb, Until, softly, upon the horizon: Voluptuous night starts to reclaim, Soothing everything, even starvation, Canceling everything, even shame, “At last,” the poet’s incantation. “My mind, no less than my spine So ardently yearns for repose; My heart full of gloomy design I recline on my back and I doze Within your soft curtains enclosed O refreshing shadows, ever blind!”
2.
It is death that consoles us, that keeps us teeming The purpose of life, and our only warrant We drink its elixir, wasted and steaming For heart to march on, though wishing we weren’t All through the storm, through frost and sleet It’s the one beacon in our bleak assay The tavern inscribed in our sacred writ Where we eat, sleep, and sit and the end of the day. It’s an Angel who holds in his magnetic hands Sleep and the blessing of rapturous dreams Who makes up the bed of the naked and poor It’s the glory of the Gods, the mystical manor, The pauper’s purse and his ancient regime To heavens unknown, death is the open door!
3.
Soft perfumes will fill our beds Our couches will be deep as tombs, On every cupboard overhead, Exotic flowers in full bloom Combusting in their final blaze, Our hearts will burn like two great signal fires, As they reflect their gleaming rays In both our minds, like double mirrors. One evening made of mystic blue and rose, We’ll with a single lightning flash dispose, A final howl, burdened with farewell; And later sneaking through the open frame, An angel will restore, with tender spell, The tarnished mirrors and exhausted flame.
4.
How many times must I shake my rattle And kiss your low brow, you cheerless lampoon? To stab at the heart of your mystical prattle, How many wasted spears have I thrown? We’ll consume our souls in artful connivance, And we will bring ruin to ramparts severe Before we will witness that grandest contrivance We yearn for detestably, drowning in tears Some there are who before idols never have trembled These sculptors condemned and marked with disgrace Always off pounding their brow and breast Their one and only hope, strange and dark Temple! Is that death, like a soaring new sun ordained Will nourish and grow the flowers of their brains!
5.
Do you share my exquisite torment “Oh strange man,” do they say of you too? – I was going to die. While in my lovesick soul a torrent Of lust mixed with horror, a most peculiar brew; Great anguish and hope mingled without care. The more the sands ran down the fatal glass, The more my torture was delectably rare; As my heart was ripped from the familiar world at last. I was a child eager for a farce to be played, Hating the curtain as one hates a barricade… Finally the cold truth was disclosed: I died without suspense, and the terrible dawn Enveloped me. –- Is that all? Is that how it goes? The curtain was lifted and I just continued on.
6.
To the wondrous child who loves maps and stamps The universe equals his vast appetite How expansive the world by the light of the lamp But in memory’s eye how frail and slight! One day we embark with feverish brains Our turbulent hearts heavy with rancor We’re ferried by oceanic quatrains Allaying our boundlessness, the sea is our anchor, Some thrill to escape autocracy’s vise Others cruel beds, shrouded in gloom Astrologers lost in the dazzling eyes of Circe, enchantress with deadly perfumes. To prevent being changed into beasts, they devour The light and the space, and glimmering skies The irascible frost, the blazing sunshower Slowly effacing the mark of her kiss. But true pioneers sail off at random Just for the leaving; hearts light as balloons, Whimsical fate they’ll never abandon And without knowing why they chase after the moon. Their very desires as shapeless as clouds, With dreams of young conscripts, bright cannons to aim, Of sumptuous pleasures, ever-changing, unknown That no human mind has been able to name.
7.
We imitate, God help us, the top and the ball Waltzing and bounding, at sixes and sevens Excitement torments us and keeps us in thrall A cruel angel whipping the sun through the heavens Frivolous destiny, always in motion Our goal being nowhere, could well be anywhere Driven by hope, with a patsy’s devotion In the search for repose we run ourselves threadbare! Our three-masted ship, Utopia-bound A shout from the bridge calls: Smoke em if you got em Then from the crows’s nest a wild voice resounds “Love … glory … joy! Goddamn We’ve hit bottom!” Each new island the lookout reports Is a new Eldorado promised by Fate; Prepared for an orgy we race to the port But collide with a reef in the stark morning light. Oh, the poor lover of fantastical shores! Should he be clapped in irons, thrown into the drink? Drunk fabricator of Americas galore Mirages which makes this the bitterest brink! Like the old drifter, tramping through muck Dreaming, nose high, of some shining sanctum; His bewitched eye spies Cockaigne, oh what luck! Wherever a torch casts its light on a slum…
8.
Amazing travelers! What noble stories We read in your eyes deep as the seas! Open the coffers of your rich memories These wonderful jewels, fashioned from galaxies. We want to travel without sail or steam To brighten the stale ennui of our prisons Let your dazzling memories gleam Across the canvas of our minds, framed only by their horizons. “Tell us, what have you seen?”
9.
“We’ve seen skies of stars and oceans of waves, And beaches of sand, yes bright shoals of sand And despite some disasters and last minute saves, We were often quite bored, just like you on your strand. Glorious sun on the indigo sea, Glorious cities at glowing sunset Lit in our hearts a mad urge to flee Into the sky of green and scarlet The richest cities, the loveliest valleys Never contained as mysterious a pull As clouds on the wind as they mingle and dally Our hearts begged for more, no matter how full. For desire is only encouraged by pleasure Like an old tree fertilized by delight The rougher and harder its bark grows in texture The more its old branches reach out to the sunlight Will you always keep growing, will you someday outlast The most ancient cypress? But look here, we have styled Some sketches for your scrapbook voracious and vast You brothers who best love the distant and wild. To sphinxes and idols we offered salute And gaped at opulent jewel-studded thrones And fairytale palaces filled with such loot Making even the richest of bankers to groan. Costumes that offered a feast to the eyes; Women whose painted teeth gleam from afar Snake charming harlequins, clever and wise And? What else? Oh, how childish your minds are.
10.
Here’s the important thing to retain Not something we sought, but wherever we’ve been From top to bottom of destiny’s chain, The commonplace spectacle of immortal sin: The woman compliant, moronic and proud Her pleasures accrue as her scruples grow fewer The man, greedy tyrant, his lechery uncowed A slave of a slave, a trench in the sewer. The lighthearted hangman, the whimpering martyr The festival seasoned and scented with gore; The decadence sapping the charlatan’s charter The people flogged senseless who cry out for more. A host of religions all just like ours Each climbing skyward beyond our travails While virtue, offered a sweet smelling bower Takes as much pleasure on cold beds of nails Chatty Humanity, boasting and preening Born into madness and now so much worse Cries out to God in agonized keening “My likeness, my master, May you be cursed!” The less foolish, drawn by delirium’s charms, Fleeing the sheepish and haphazard mob Just to take refuge in opium’s arms –That’s the perennial news of the globe.”
11.
One draws such bitter lessons from travel The small, prosaic world’s ever glum Yesterday, forever, days unravel An oasis of dread in a desert of boredom! Should we quit or stay? Stay if you’re able Take off, if you must. One runs, one hides Miles away or just beneath the table Time never stops or breaks his stride Even the Wand’ring Jew cursed to ramble Cannot flee fast enough, by horse or sail In Time’s net, we’re all bound to get tangled Even those who shun all travail When He finally trods upon our spines, We’ll declare our hope and hoist our chins Like in old times when we made for China, Eyes fixed seaward, faces to the wind We set sail upon the darkened sea With the joyful heart of volunteers Do you hear sweet voices sing so gaily Come you lotus-seekers over here In the languid air we brightly harvest The exotic fruit you hunger for Come get drunk upon on the curious sweetness In mild afternoon drowse evermore” This familiar accent such a nectar Old lost cousins stretch out through the mist “To refresh your heart, swim to your Electra!” Says she whose dainty knees we once had kissed.
12.
O Death, old captain, it is time to sever the link This land has wearied us, O Death! Don’t keep us long Though sea and sky are both as black as ink, Our hearts are filled with the merriest song! Pour out your poison to inflame our fever Oh, how this fire burns our minds so pure and true We’ll dive down to Heaven or Hell, or wherever In the depths of the unknown we’ll seek out the New!
13.
Oh, my poor muse, what afflicts you this dawn? Morbid visions have taken command of your gaze By turns I see cast on your face, pale and drawn, Madness and horror, ennui, and malaise. Did the green gremlin and rouge-spattered faun Empty out love and alarm from their urns? Have all your nightmares revolted, with sabers drawn? Banishing you to the depths of Minturn? I wish for you vigorous breath to exhale Your breast ever buzzing with every detail Your fervent blood coursing in metrical waves Calling forth stanzas from the ancients’ graves Ruled by Apollo, the father of rhyme And great god Pan, the lord of the harvest time!
14.
The Giantess 02:11
In the days when Nature, in avid largesse Bore monstrous children in daily routine I’d like to have lived with a young giantess Like a sensuous cat at the feet of a queen. I’d like to have seen her flesh bloom ’round her soul And freely expand to a dizzying size And guess if her heart contained dark smold’ring coals By the humid vapors that swam in her eyes Inspect in no hurry her beautiful shape Crawl on the slopes of her mammoth kneescape And then in the summer, in the poisonous heat of the day She’d drape body across the terrain In the shade of her breasts I would lazily lay Like a quiet hamlet tucked into a mountain chain.
15.
The arresting glance of a lady of pleasure Like a ray of light on a mountain basin That the rippling moon lets fall with leisure When she wants something cool to wash her face in The last few coins in the gambler’s clutch; A kiss from slender Adeline Tender music’s rousing touch Fading like a distant cry of pain None of this compares, oh bottomless bottle To your bountiful belly where solaces jostle The poet’s thirsty heart to fill You pour out hope, youth and life, The pride and treasure of his sacrifice, Triumphant as a God on Olympus hill!

about

15 songs adapted from Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal, originally written for Theater Oobleck's cantastoria cycle "Baudelaire In A Box."

credits

released October 31, 2012

Tracks 1-5 recorded and mixed by David Costanza at The Barn Recorder, Questa NM. Tracks 6-12 recorded and mixed by John Szymanski in assorted living & dining rooms, Chicago, IL. Mastered by Bruce Templeton at Magneto Mastering. Cover art by Jeffrey Dorchen.

Music by Chris Schoen. Lyrics by Charles Baudelaire, as translated by Chris Schoen. Originally written for performance in Theater Oobleck's cantastoria cycle "Baudelaire in a Box." For more information, visit baudelaireinabox.wordpress.com. All songs © 2012 Blooms Unbearable (ASCAP)

Musicians: Chris Schoen, Emmy Bean, David Costanza, Dylan Hinckley, Ronnie Kuller, Anne Speroni, John Szymansi, and Heather Trost.

Thanks to: Amy Warren and and T-Roy Martin for originating the live versions of these songs, John Bliss for use of his basement for drum recording, Theater Oobleck for innumerable assistances, and Everyone that kindly supported this project through Kickstarter.

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