Early in the Mourning

They remain unfinished lyrics to what was shaping up to be a country-western song. The working title, “Early in the Mourning,” emerged from my mind as I pondered how long I might feel the combination of sorrow, guilt, and myriad other emotions enveloping me. Initially, as I mused about whether this turbulent storm of emotions might ever end, the title seemed appropriate for an essay. But as I thought more about it, and slipped deeper into a depressed mood, the more it sounded to me like the shrapnel of discarded song lyrics. I find myself attracted to lyrics that tell a story, even maudlin lyrics bathed in self-pity. I think that’s the appeal of country-western music; it is story-telling to a catchy tune. The elusive catchy tune, though, can make or break an otherwise decent set of lyrics—in my opinion. There’s the rub. If my opinion amounted to anything of substance, I might be a country-western music promoter. “Promoter.” The word reeks of rotted capitalism, doesn’t it? Well, yes, I believe it does. Music promoters work to mold products around public desire. But that’s an unfair description to pin on people whose only sins relate to making a living off meeting the public’s demand for poetry accompanied by a tune.

Here is the first verse of the unfinished song:

When I woke up early in the mourning,
my eyes were salted shut.
My tears had flowed and left a solid track.
I tried and tried to dry them,
but they just kept right on flowing;
‘Cause I knew that you were never coming back.

There was more, but I decided audiences might overlook the clever wordplay. And I couldn’t stem the flow of salt. Maybe I’ll come back to this later. Maybe not. I started another piece long ago but abandoned it when I decided it was going nowhere. It was called “Bad Poetry.” It started out like this:

Bad poetry smothers empathy with a pillow of ill-formed phrases.
Bad poetry digests the imagination the way a snake eats a rat.
Bad poetry causes people to drown tires and slash kittens.

It didn’t even begin to fit into a musical pattern. There are ample reasons I am not living in Nashville, turning down recording contracts right and left.


Yesterday, I attempted to reach an attorney to discuss various matters about which I thought I might need professional advice. I haven’t received a return call yet. I suspect the lack of a return call might have something to do with the fact that 85% of the American public is taking time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The 85% figure is a figment of my overactive imagination. But, still. I remember my years of owning a business; the only time I could get away was that one week period, when I closed the business for the duration. It was an easy decision. None of my clients were active during that week. In fact, none were reachable. I could have used the week to get caught up. Instead, I used the week to breathe. And my staff were forced to take one of their two weeks of paid vacation time during that period. I required them to breathe, as well. In hindsight, I probably should have given them two weeks of vacation in addition to the forced one-week respite. And I would have done so, if not for the demands of my clients. If I had it all to do over again, I would do things differently. Not just work, either. I would be a better person all the way around. Now that it’s too late, it’s easy to promise it all would have been different.  I have no idea why this paragraph found its way onto the screen. I think my fingers sprung a leak.


Yesterday (or was it the day before?), I spoke to a woman I once considered a good friend. I had not spoken to her in a very long time. Her Chicago/Midwest accent was startling to me, despite the fact that it had not changed since I knew her. Something about it, though, was disturbing. Or maybe it wasn’t the accent as much as it was her demeanor; an air of patronizing superiority. The accent was the same, but the attitude seemed very different. I doubt she changed, though. I think, instead, I have become more attuned to how very grating it has always been. I kept hearing her say “you should…” do such and such, as if she had answers that someone of my lowly station could not possibly find on my own. Though I was polite, I could not get off the phone quickly enough. I ended the phone call with “I wish you all the best.” I hope that conveyed the message I intended to convey; that the conversation was the last one I plan to have with her.

Ach. I want to live according to this philosophy: “Everyone you meet is facing a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” But I fail to live my wishes. Who knows what she might have been dealing with? At the time, it did not enter my mind; I simply wanted to close a chapter. It’s not enough to want to be good. If I do not behave the way I claim to want to be, I am at minimum a hypocrite.


Some days, and this is shaping up to be one of them, I would like nothing better than to curl up in bed and sleep until dark. But that is not going to happen. So, I might as well continue sliding into the day.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Early in the Mourning

  1. Robin, I googled iceberg Newfoundland and sat viewing, in awe, spectacular images of icebergs along the coast of Newfoundland, a stretch of seacoast called “Iceberg Alley.” The obvious “chill” has blunted my immediate desire to live there, but I still want to visit. If COVID ever ceases to be the monster it has become, I will try. I spoke to one of my brothers the other night and he mentioned how odd it seemed to him that, in Australia, the holidays are celebrated during the summer season. Thanks for the compliment about the song/poem. I will return to it. In the meantime, I will take it one day at a time; deep breaths and beautiful memories of a smile that could lift me out of the deepest depression.

    Tara, I tried to backtrack on my unjust assessment of people based solely on a word, but perhaps not enough. Maybe it’s best not to stream my consciousness these days. Thanks for your admonition to be gentle with myself and to reach out when I want. You’re right, I hope; that’s the best way.

  2. robin andrea says:

    I love the title “Early in the Mourning.” It is so evocative. It would make a great song and great poem. I hope you’ll keep working at it.
    Life is very quiet these days between Christmas and New Year. The dark time of the year in the northern hemisphere. I always think how strange it must be in the southern hemisphere to celebrate the holidays during the time of summer and endless sun.
    I thought of you this morning when I saw a photo of an iceberg in Newfoundland. I hope you’ll google that. It is truly awesome, but not in the way that would make me want to live there.
    One day at a time, my friend, deep breaths and memories.
    Take care there, John.

  3. Tara says:

    Clive Davis was a music producer, and brought us some damn good music over the decades. Nothing wrong with that profession!

    I like your word play in both drafts posted here. Especially the tires and the kittens.

    You’ve probably got a long road ahead, my friend, and I hope you are gentle with yourself and reach out as much as you want to. That’s the way through, I think. Other than that – no rules!

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