Nameless and Awake: Eight Poems by John William Carroll

by Reuben Butchart & The Millworkers

  • Compact Disc (CD) + Digital Album

    High-quality limited edition hardbound artbook with John William Carroll's poems typeset and 13 original illustrations by Reuben Butchart. Book contains over 32 pages and compact disk.

    Also includes immediate download of 8-track album in your choice of 320k mp3, FLAC, or just about any other format you could possibly desire.
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      $12 USD


  • Streaming + Download

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
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      $8 USD




Singer-songwriter and composer Reuben Butchart joined forces with poet John William Carroll and an eclectic chamber orchestra to develop and record this song cycle at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center.


released January 1, 2012

Poems by John William Carroll
Music by Reuben Butchart


all rights reserved



Reuben Butchart Brooklyn, New York

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Track Name: The Vanity of Song
By knowing what I know,
I am; so now,
what shall I, being, do?
For money, saith the preacher,
is a defense.
But I have no inheritance.
What work is mine? In what do I rejoice?
Only the vanity of giving voice
to thoughts in time –
and when I'm done with time –
and singing – singing under the sun –
what's the news?

These songs have brought no money
and the singer sang unsung.

©2011 John William Carroll
Track Name: Nameless and Awake
I bought two flower bulbs,
each in an unmarked paper cup.

I asked the Asian proprietor as he wrapped them up,
"What will they be? What is their name...?"
I repeated it louder, but language wasn't to blame.
The question itself disoriented him.
"Does it matter?" he said as he counted out change.
East met West in that simple exchange.

A fern I brought home didn't make it,
but I let it hang in the window
orange as a clown's wig
set in cascades of green:
snaking philodendron an sky-rocketing wandering jew.
Trustworthy plants whose names I knew.

Even in a dry empty cup,
each bulb pushed out roots
grey and thin as hairs on a witch's chin
and, on top, a pigtail of wan stem,
stretched to unite the earth with the sun.
That's their real name, when all is said and done.

I cradled my orphans deep in the fern,
like twins in a fairy tale hid deep in the wood
told "Wait here. And don't cry."
But never told why.

I watered. I waited. I nearly forgot.
So, how come this morning
I climb on a chair and peek into the clay pot?
They bloomed blue in a blue hour.
Two flowers on each stem opened
simultaneous as eyes in surprise.

Outside the window a feather snow drifted
through a cat's cradle of cable and clothesline.
Stray cats with collars turned up
patrolled falling down fences and sheds
makeshift as forts we built up
in the woods, when we were kids,
hiding out, learning to smoke,
perfecting the syntax of swears,
punctuations of spit,
plotting our getaways to anywheres,
when we would get tall
and grow into our names.

The twins and I stare out,
as we fall through a light of a day
we know we did not make.
The slow snow takes its time;
knowing the fall is everything.
No sooner does a flake touch down
than it goes quick and wet,
as a perfunctory kiss goodbye.

Nameless and awake,
the three of us wait
thought never told why.
We shall not cry.

©2011 John William Carroll
Track Name: Versos Sencillos de José Martí
(Selected lines of José Martí
translated by John William Carroll)

A sincere man am I,
from where the palm trees grow.
And I only want, before I die,
my poems of the soul to sow.

I come from all parts,
going everywhere.
I am art among the arts.
In the forest,
I am forest there.

Over land and sea
I hear a sigh shake.
And, it is no sigh; it is he,
my son about to wake.

I want to cast my fortunes
with the poor in the high country.
The brook that tills the mountains
is more to me than the sea.

All is beauty unchanging,
all is music and right,
and all is dark as coal
'till the diamond wakes to the light.

My verse is green – pure and clear
with a flag's flash flame red.
My verse is a wounded dear
seeking trees that will shelter her head.

Versos sencillos de José Martí.
Versos sinceros de José Martí.

©2011 John William Carroll
Track Name: The Gull and I
I almost missed him, white
on white, but for that startle,
less than fright, that tells
me something else is sensible nearby.
We shared a snowy rock, the dying gull and I.

Only the slow opening and closing
of a yellow eye signaled more life
was left in him to ebb away.
He faced the sea –
gun grey and white the sky –
his colors.

Wind ruffled the feathers along his back;
he made no move to preen.
One wing slid from his side
like a shawl from a shoulder.
Snow fell into the sea and melted.
Snow fell onto his feathers and stayed.

The eye died open, unafraid.

©2011 John William Carroll
Track Name: All The Shoes He Ever Wore
An old man walking out to buy new shoes wonders,
or maybe says out loud –
he's never sure which anymore –
nor does he give a damn if he is talking to himself.
He's a good listener.

An old man walking out to buy new shoes asks:
"Will I live to wear new shoes out?"
The sole of his loafer tore loose.
Electrician's tape wouldn't hold up
for more than a block's worth,
yapping and yapping
like one of those
little dogs he detests.

In his mind's eye he begins
to set out a life's march
of all the shoes he ever wore –
from lamby baby shoes to army boots
to yapping dog loafers.

Marching, marching, marching.
All the shoes he ever wore.

There in the store the old man ignores the mirrors,
accepts the first thing he's shown:
Them silly sneaker jobbies made with those Velcro snaps
in some god-awful color
he's never seen in nature.

"I'll wear them out,"
the old man declares to the salesman
and tenderly wraps the loafers
in the tissue and lays them in the box.
"You can keep these," he says.
"You can wear them to your wedding,
so long as you promise
to send an engraved invitation."

Leaving, he says out loud –
or maybe he thinks it –
"Soles as thick as tractor tires,
in the interest of fiscal prudence,
I'd better get walking."

Walking, walking, walking.
All the shoes he ever wore.

In the store he spotted a polished pair of two-toners,
slender and yar as yachts,
so smooth they could turn on a dime,
dance on the dizzying lights and glide on the sawdust,
swing a pretty girl out,
pull her sweet swirl back into his arms.

This pair belongs there
between army boots and black oxfords –
those shoes he wore behind bars,
a bank teller staring at the clock
like a school boy how many years.

Standing, standing, standing.
All the shoes he ever wore.

The harbor was full of boats that day,
riding the swells that spilled through the breakwater,
tugging at their guy ropes like greyhounds
knocking into one another, sniffing arses.

The rigging tinkled against the masts like sacramental bells.
The boats sluiced over a dazzle of sparks on the wavelets.
He wiggled his toes in the Velcros. "Lot's of room in here."
"Good," he says or he thinks "'cause I'm still growing."
And rising from the bench, he spins a step stolen from Astaire,
bows from the waist and declares,
"Apparently, my dancing days ain't done."

Dancing, dancing, dancing.
All the shoes he ever wore.
Dancing, dancing, dancing.
All the shoes and one pair more.

©2011 John William Carroll
Track Name: If He'll Come
My heart will wink him single
when a close kiss doubles his nose.
I'll trace the blood map on his forearm,
the blue root on the side of his foot,
and learn him sooner than the way home –
if he'll come.

I'll muzzle in his smells:
warm bread and scrubbed potatoes –
and pry a penny from each dimple,
chin or chalice of his chest,
with a tongue suppler than thumbs –
If he'll come.

I'll hang him on my neck and strum him
like a lyre – fretting the knobs of his nape –
tune his shoulders and his back.
I'll make a minikin music
to sit inside his ear and hum –
if he'll come.

©2011 John William Carroll
Track Name: Reflections at the Beaver Pond
Falling water wash my ear.
There's no song pure enough
if water will not love.

I went to the pond to rave.
I tore at a tree and kicked.
I wept in a handful of leaves
and called these shenanigans prayer.

I begged a bush take fire.
"Lead me up," I cried
"to an ambiance rarer than air,
to the wide awake light I desire."
But lightening forked no stair;
no bush burned.

Falling water wash my ear.
There's no song pure enough
if water will not love.

A tree shook a fist. The fist turned into a face
and an owl opened like a book
to the place marked death and dropped.
In a small thing, mousing beneath, light stopped.

I sat by the water to stare –
to star at the water's stare.
I built a stout ship with a leaf and a twig,
freighted her with prayer,
and launched her over the dam.

Something the color of pond bottom leaped
and pulled something asleep from the sun.
A bird screamed mine, mine, mine!
Time, like a shaman, danced around me
rattling his dry pods.

Everywhere mind ate mind.
My heart beat like to die –
a fish in a dry boat bottom;
a mole in the mouth of the cat.

Falling water wash my ear.
There's no song pure enough
if water will not love.

A log counted out turtles;
like doubloons, they slipped through its knuckles.
A stick winked in the duckweed.
A newt spread her perfect toes.
What do the cold-bloods know?
Couched in the nonce of their pulse,
they measure primordial rhythms
with the strictness of a waltz,
singing ecstatic hosannas,
singing turtle-dumb.

Falling water wash my ear.
There's no song pure enough
if water will not love.

The current that flagged my reflection
didn't spirit my spirit away.
Water divided a reed;
I knew the reed to be whole.
Shadow blackened water I knew ran clear.
A ripple marbled a cloud.
I peered through my funhouse reflection,
down through the black of one eye.
A fish eddied up and kissed me
and somebody laughed out loud.

Falling water wash my ear.
There's no song pure enough
if water will not love.

A sumac stripped of leaves
made a bird's nest easy to find.
Somebody went away.
I slipped it into my pocket,
feeling left behind.

Nary a thing I spoke to that day
would give me its promise to stay.
Hell, I've watched stars die out of the world
too quickly to think up my wish.

I sat very long, very still.
I did not come to believe;
but to listen to light and to breathe.
Being was my belief
as I breathed with more mouths than a tree.

Falling water wash my ear.
There's no song pure enough
if water will not love.

©2011 John William Carrol
Track Name: Thank You John
The moon has snagged a cloud,
but she can't hold it
any better than the trees can,
who stand like children
reaching for their lost balloon.

Thank You,

©2011 John William Carroll

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