Blog of artist and poet, Michelle Seaman

Beautiful Unfamiliar

She hurt her neck hoisting a friend through the bathroom window
of a bar. His foot slipped her neck popped,
now pain is a chronic level of noise
that she can lower by stretching and not sitting
in the same position for very long.
Going has become her theme.
A stack of polyester-lined suitcases are her nightstand
for a battery-operated alarm clock.
Maps on the living room wall
outline the universe according to Zeus’s scholars
who wished to travel above the wind
to breath Icarus’s spirit from a cloud;
my friend is the pink hues in the sunrise
that kissed the boy as he fell from the sky
trying to reach her eternal rising.
She doesn’t need an airplane to fly,
prefers to travel by train or bus
thirsty for solid ground to support her feet
propelling her further from the past
she carries in a file folder of poems
she writes to capture
what it might mean
to stay.

My friend Cindy Childress wrote this poem for me as I was leaving Florida to move to Chicago for grad school. Since then, I have stayed true to the restlessness Cindy describes in “Motion Girl.” I lived in Chicago for two years where I fell in love with Benjamin. Since meeting him, over the last sixteen years, we’ve lived in North Carolina, Washington D.C., Berlin, and now New York.

There’s been a bit of a pattern. Except for our “semester abroad,” we’ve moved in some kind of perpetual school loop, like there’s a four to five year limit to our staying ability. We’ve been in New York for four years, and while our feet are itchy once again, we’ve used this time to complete our latest album, our love songs for Europe, “Beautiful Unfamiliar.”

It’s taken us a long time to produce this work for a few reasons. Yes, we moved a lot, and it’s hard to create when you’re not settled into a studio space, but the making of “Beautiful Unfamiliar” also marked some significant changes in how we create and how we let go.

Parts of the music for this baby were conceived months before we left for Berlin. Benjamin spent a solid week in our small studio in D.C., composing constantly, barely getting up from his desk, and at one point he said to me, “I don’t really know what I’m writing.” Then, we were caught up in the whirl of packing, saying goodbye to our familiar places and people, and the songs had to wait.

When we returned to the States, he played the music for me again, and I knew- each song was a city, an emotion we felt in Europe. So we wrote and wrote and wrote. Trying to get to the root of each place and each feeling took a lot out of us. We didn’t want to let go. Thankfully, we had lovely friends who were willing to listen to early drafts and help coax the songs to the surface.

Our singer-songwriter friend, Rose Grace, provided the most magical, essential parts of the process, lending her voice and lyrics to two of the songs. We still can’t believe that the woman living right next door could come over, listen to the first track, “Water Be My Road Now,” and sing the line we needed. Even more incredibly, when we shared that we’d biked in Potsdam past castles, she grinned and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but I performed in those castles when I toured.” Of course she did! I had only written sparse lyrics for “Cast a Shadow, Cast a Spell.” Rose added a gorgeous melody and lyrics that captured the fairy tale essence we couldn’t find on our own. She helped us achieve the grace to let go.

Thank you Rosie, thank you Cindy, and thanks to all for reading and listening. Tschüss!