friday feast: wish i had a river i could skate away on

Photo of Joni Mitchell by Joel Bernstein (1976)

Happy December and Happy Holidays!

‘Tis the season of joy, miracles, and giving, warm gatherings with family and friends, the lighting of candles.

In the coming days, bells will be ringing, we’ll raise our voices in song, and around every corner, fa la la and ho ho ho. And yet I feel sorry for December. Not because it’s the last month of the year, having waited patiently 344 days for its chance to shine. Not because its days are noticeably shorter, darker, and colder. No, I feel sorry for December because so much rests on it.

It’s a month crammed with hectic activity, frantic over-spending, zealous over-eating. Suddenly we run around hither and yon, determined to make sure every single person we’ve ever known or loved is somehow acknowledged. We are pressured to socialize whether we want to or not, tip back that eggnog (glug glug), and by jingle by gum, be HAPPY.

Don’t misunderstand. December doesn’t really mind being Happy. It doesn’t mind all the glitter and sparkle and lit-up faces of kids opening presents on Christmas morning. It certainly doesn’t mind all the cookies, candy canes, or gingerbread men. No, December minds the remembering —  of childhood Christmases never to be relived, the missing — of loved ones living far away, deployed overseas, or no longer with us, and the knowing — that many are having hard times and will have a lean holiday, if at all.


Being the last month of the year, everything falls to December. Everything that could have, should have happened the past 11 months, but didn’t. Missed chances, dashed hopes, youthful dreams losing more luster with each passing second. The across-the-board wake-up call when high expectations must meet reality is a lot for a single month to bear.

And yet the celebrations will continue, and we will go on, finding a singular beauty in the sadness, sporting badges of honor for having survived this long. We can skate away, if we like, escape to a place of emotional safety, selective remembering and quiet joy.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” (here covered by Sarah McLachlan) has become a favorite non-traditional “Christmas song” for many people. Perhaps it is because unlike the traditional carols, this song about a romantic breakup addresses some of our reckonings and deep-seated longings. How much we yearn to see the light in our lives. How much it has hurt us trying to find it. How much we hope it will burn bright enough to get us through December.


♥ Special thanks to Cynthia Lord, who posted this video earlier this week.

♥ You can find Joni’s original version of “River”, which was included on her landmark album, Blue (1971), along with the complete lyrics here.


♥ Check out this interesting article about “River,” which includes some backstory and quotes from James Taylor, who was romantically involved with Joni in the early 70’s.

Related post: Two of Joni’s songs with paintings to go with them.

♥ Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by the lovely Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect. Skate on over, and enjoy all the poems. Have a good December, and be gentle with those who sing “Jingle Bells” in a minor key.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: a case of joni

“I am a painter first, and a musician second.” ~ Joni Mitchell

Last Friday, writer2b featured Suzanne Vega’s song, “A Small Blue Thing.”

I had never heard it before, but I loved the lyrics, so I used them as one of my writing prompts this week. Focusing on blue made me think of Joni Mitchell, whom I consider to be the finest female singer-songwriter of our time, and it made me want to see more of her art.

I was happy to find a collection of her work online. Here are two pieces I especially like, with a song to go with them. Joni’s comment:

“This and the next drawing are of the kitchen table I had in Laurel Canyon, one done in the day and the other at night. It was a delicious room; the windows were big and the trees were quite a bit below so it was literally like living in a tree house. I’ve always been drawn to color; I had a bright blue salad bowl, a purple candlestick and very vivid hand-embroidered place mats. Everything was folk-artish as a matter of fact, so I guess my aesthetics were still quite related to folk music.”

 “Table Laurel Canyon I,” Felt pen on paper, 1969


by Joni Mitchell

Come to the dinner gong
The table is laden high
Fat bellies and hungry little ones
Tuck your napkins in
And take your share
Some get the gravy
And some get the gristle
Some get the marrow bone
And some get nothing
Though there’s plenty to spare

(Rest here.)

“Table Laurel Canyon II,” Felt pen on paper, 1969

Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten the wine. “A Case of You” is my favorite song from Blue (1971), supposedly written about Joni’s affair with Leonard Cohen. Like the rest of the album, it is personal, poetic, confessional, real and true. It always slays me.



Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid

I remember that time you told me you said
‘Love is like touching souls’
Surely you touched mine
‘Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet . . .

(Complete lyrics here, video here.)

   “Taming the Tiger,” Oil on canvas, 1997


Joni’s official website features song lyrics, a gallery of paintings, and a great timeline of her life and accomplishments.

For the full palette of today’s poems, check in with Kelly Fineman at Writing and Ruminating.

To read any of the 2008 Poetry Friday posts you may have missed on this blog, click here.

Don something blue, and have a great weekend!!