Right after we picked up Maggie up from school at 5:30 that afternoon on her return from a school trip, we drove out to the soccerplex for her last regular season game. We told her that if she was exhausted from her trip she could skip the game—and we let her coach know that she might not be able to make it. But as she pulled her suitcase out of the school van, I asked her if she wanted to play and right away she said, “Yes.”
Since it was a nice early evening, we all went—Heather, Maggie, Julien and I. Maggie wasn’t a starter tonight but after a few minutes she got into the game, and as she ran down the field the song “Coney Island Baby” started playing in my head. It’s the sad and beautiful song that closes Lou Reed’s 1976 album of the same name and goes,
You know, man, when I was a young man in high school
you believe it or not I wanted to play football for the coach.
And all those older guys they said he was mean and cruel,
but you know I wanted to play football for the coach…
Now I know that Maggie was playing soccer not American football, which was what Lou Reed was singing about, and Maggie’s coach that spring seems like a nice guy and not at all the mean and cruel man in Lou Reed’s song. But still, on a Friday evening with the sun getting closer and closer to the horizon, “Coney Island Baby” was the perfect thing to have in my head. When I lived in New York, it was the perfect song to play on a Friday night as the sun went down and what drifted into my apartment from Avenue B changed from daytime noise to the nighttime street noises that always felt like music to me.
The song eventually went out of my head and I continued to watch Maggie play. She was doing fine, but pretty soon you could see she was getting tired. At one point she was standing there on the field, her hand on her hip, as if she were waiting for something other than the ball—that’s when the next Lou Reed song came into my head.
This time it was Velvet Underground-era Lou Reed—“I’m Waiting for the Man”:
I’m waiting for my man.
Twenty-six dollars in my hand.
Up to Lexington, 1-2-5.
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive.
I’m waiting for my man.
Again, what’s going on in the song (a drug deal), thankfully, had nothing to do with what was going on in Maggie’s life or my life or Heather’s or Julien’s. But that didn’t matter, because in every other way it seemed to fit. Later in the game, there was one more change of song. That happened when I remembered that the following week was when Maggie would be playing Juliet in her school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. I begin to hear the lines,
Caught between the twisted stars,
the plotted lines, the faulty map
that brought Columbus to New York.
Betwixt between the East and West,
he calls on her wearing a leather vest,
the earth squeals and shudders to a halt.
It was the song “Romeo Had Juliette” from Lou Reed’s New York album. It’s a hell of a piece of music, and, standing there watching Maggie play soccer, I was glad our lives were nothing like a Lou Reed song—which is maybe one of the things I love most about these songs and our lives.
At the end of the game, Julien ran out to the field to greet Maggie, and she picked him up and walked with him in her arms back to the sidelines where Heather and I were waiting. And as we packed up our things, I wondered, Why isn’t B.B. King’s music going through my head? Or maybe some lines from the poet Franz Wright, both of whom had died the day before.
That’s when I realized—or maybe recalled is the more accurate word—that everything happens sooner or later. It always does. Because for me everything is the blues, and everything is poetry. Because every moment when something is given to me, something is taken away from someone else. And every moment when something is taken away from me, something is given to someone else. Sometimes that person doesn’t deserve what he gets. Sometimes I don’t deserve what I get.
But that’s the poetry at work. It’s what ties all this together, whether it wants to stay together or not. It’s what keeps all this going, whether it wants to keep going or not. And so these songs will continue to be sung, and all those notes within them will continue to be bent, and these lines will continue to flow, and poetry and the blues will keep going and going until everything is done. Or until there’s nothing else to do.
Photograph by Jose Padua