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In The Dark (Awake Of Course​)​, Vol. 1

by Amina Shareef Ali

supported by
George Kelly
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George Kelly Most capacities exist in specific contexts, but songs like this remind one that it still feels good to feel the sweet sufficiency of certain abilities recognized and reified: this is still love, this remains a readiness able to be spent, untapped but still potent, poised and powerful, worthy even if not exercised. Favorite track: Ready 2 Love U.
A country that's summery in fall; a tree that bends, a road that winds. A few who weren't sure they'd make it here at all; a child that knows it takes all kinds. "Some hearts are red like a dragonfruit. Some hearts are purple like a grape. Some hearts are blue like the sky. My heart is a grape purple heart, I can feel it inside." A seed that feeds, a seed that sprouts; the difference between gift and theft. To live within, or to live without; lessons learned and lessons left. The tree is still a tree, the fence still a fence; a broken heart is still a heart. A life imagined is still real. Sometimes just staying alive's an art, but I don't know why it hurts to heal.
David 02:18
David, wipe that smirk off your face: your key don’t work this lock no more. Yeah, I put the flowers in a vase; I’m still not opening the door. And you can stay on your knees all night, you can stay mad at me. But David, you’re going to be alright, because you’re going to have to be. Buy my dress if I’d wear your ring: such a noble stand you took. Play any song I’d care to sing, if it came from your old standard book. David, it doesn’t even matter whether I’m still mad at you-- but let the poets pardon you if it means that I don’t have to. Oh, I know, you never meant to be like this; I’m sure you didn’t make that choice. Go ahead and tell your therapist; you know I’m not trying to hear that noise. How it’s not your fault you’re a misogynist-- it’s still your responsibility. I’m sure you’ll get another chance, David, but not with me.
I know what you’ll say before you even start; I’ve got you mistaken for somebody else. But you can hardly say that it’s my fault that you’re not present to defend yourself. I remember when you got your first tattoo, Zombie Jesus and you made your Mama cry. She said, “You know that lasts forever.” “No Ma, it lasts until I die.” I never been the one that quits; no, I’m the one who does CPR for forty-five minutes. But once you’ve broken all the ribs, girl you gotta admit that this love is finished. There’s some things that you can’t bring back. There’s some things that you can’t revive. After all, life didn’t come back to me. No, I came back to life. Burning plastic smell wafts in from the kitchen; a rat must’ve chewed through the wire. Now we ain’t only lost our house, hon, we got ourselves a little forest fire. A ballooning cloud of ash and smoke--oh. I see you got out in front of it. I think your love’s a joke, and if you think that hurts, try being the butt of it. I only finally found my feet, I was on free fall for sort of awhile. I curl my lip and bare my teeth; it’s sort of a snarl, but it’s also sort of a smile. There’s some days I’m almost optimistic, even had a two week stretch where I didn’t cry. I’m taking a little space from forgiveness. Don’t think it’s ‘cause I didn’t try.
Unwrap this butcher paper heart, or simply tear it at the crease. If you’ve no other use for it, no need to keep it in one piece. Smooth out this butcher paper heart. Match ragged end to ragged end. Turn it into a work of art, or pen a letter to a friend. Toss out the blood and guts within. You said it seemed like a safe bet I wouldn’t need them anymore. Is that a poem or a threat? Fold up this butcher paper heart: one more for your fleet of paper cranes. A love note bundled like a flag, a childhood fortune telling game. So scared you’d take your scrap away; but darling, you did me one worse. “Hang onto this till I get back.” Is that a promise or a curse? That albatross hung from my sleeve! And just when I’d managed to part with one I carried for so long: another butcher paper heart.
I been sitting here in this graveyard; it's a green and sweet and somber place. And anyone could come and stay with me awhile, if they don't mind the quiet, and they can leave with grace. But I'm ready to go now. I'm ready to crawl into your tiny house. Ready to hang my leather jacket next to yours, and I'm ready to love you. I don't know if your heart's like mine; the water's warm, but I'm only ankle deep. I don't know what you look like when you cry. I wanna know what you look like when you sleep. I'm taking a risk, but it isn't much. My heart wasn't put here not to love. My body wasn't made not to be touched, I'm thirty-eight years old, and I'm ready to love you. If I'm not what you're after; well, I get that, of course. But if whatever's going to happen, happens: I'm responsible for my heart, and you for yours. But whenever mine finally stops, and my nerves short out, if anyone gets to do a final count, they'll see I spent tonight, this week, this month being ready to love you.
Her post revoked, the portal locked, Her labor left to wilt or rot; it’s a lesson that won’t need repeating. Wield the carrot or the stick, but whatever flower or fruit she picked, you don't evict the gardener of Eden. A snake of garden variety, a trick to test her piety; a thoughtful gesture, but you needn’t. Don’t mean to tell you your business, but it never ought’ve come to this. Who dare dismiss the gardener of Eden? A gardener gets known by the land, it won’t respond to any hand; blossoms that bolt from the first meeting. The trellis sags in sorry shape, but the soil says it’s not too late to reinstate the gardener of Eden. Whatever help hired in her stead, a shadowed shape still tends your bed. You could say I’ve tried to stay keyed in. The tools my cupboards still contain, my garments that still bear the stain; I remain the gardener of Eden.
The Trouble 03:46
Shred of doubt like a splinter, pricking underneath your skin; no easy way to draw it out, but I think you know how it got in. You can try to ignore it, but I’ll tell you what I wish I knew: Either you go to the trouble, else the trouble come to you. Cutting word from a close mate, and now you wanna draw blood too; it’s easier to return fire than to ask them to dress your wound. You keep wishing for a harder heart, eventually it’ll come true. Either you go to the trouble, else the trouble come to you. As an entertainer, trouble ain’t the best; with the corridors of cobwebs, and the cupboards filled with ghosts. But I think you’d rather be trouble’s guest than have to play the host. Hour after hour, listen to trouble hold court, tell you stories you can barely believe. But when at last you tire of that sport, good luck getting him to leave. Once I had a love affair like a good book, never wanted it to end. But if I didn’t let my lover go, I’d’ve never met my best friend. You gotta prune what’s wilted if you wanna see a bloom: either you go to the trouble, else the trouble come to you. Sometimes you’re gonna get burned, it’s gonna scratch and itch and peel; you don’t owe no one understanding, but baby boo, I wanna see you heal. They’re as different as sea and sky, though each is just as blue. Either you go to the trouble, else the trouble come to you. Got all the pieces of the puzzle, now if you’d only get a clue; either you go to the trouble, else the trouble come to you.
Dog 02:46
Gnawing at the chain, something warm pooling in my mouth; Mama, I feel like a dog getting out. Don't know what I did, but I tell you what, man: soon as I can figure it out, I'm fixing to do it again. Last master I had, treated me like shhh... made me feel like a dog getting hit. Well, my head's hard enough, I can take what I get, but it don't make no sense. I don't know what I did. Oh, that feels too good, that's how I know it won't last! Way you look at me, I feel like a dog getting scratched. Get behind my ear, get my neck, get my back; give almost anything to keep feeling like that. Oh, that feels too good, still feel like a dog getting hit: your open palm to my side, I just lean into it. Well, I know you're still here, and I know I exist. Something warm in my mouth; is it blood or is it spit?
Honest Song 03:08
A song will keep you honest, if not exactly brave. Like the one stuck in my head now: it won’t come out until it’s safe. I’ve been the lonesome mountain, and the songbird Joy; and the ruined apple tree, and the broken boy. Never thought I’d say it, but you remind me of her: things she’d say used to make me have to close the bedroom door. The way you turn your head away, like you didn’t notice me. I didn’t like her politics, but I loved her poetry. Our child asleep in their plaster room; the bachelor’s buttons in their bastard bloom. What kind of a story is this for our children? Vile caricature, like Rumpelstiltskin? Or the wounded sparrow, those imperfect saviors; the broken arrow, the president’s lawyers working overtime to justify torture. Broken glass in your anxiety tincture. I say I wanna spit fire, but I don’t know what I mean. I mean I’m tired of fighting; I’m tired of everything. And if I had my knuckles to do over again, I would get “birdsong”, or maybe “warm rain”.
Guess there were some embers left in those cool ashes you stirred; so I cradled that new feeling like an injured baby bird. Took the book you lent me as our nightly parting word; you know I love to meditate on death just shortly before losing consciousness. Mixtape you made me back when we were childhood friends: played it backwards, forwards, till it came out mangled strands. Dunno when Annah began, but you know where she ends. You choked the system with that tangled mess. A pattern's what you use to make a dress. That fledgling feeling's growing strong; so if you've begun to change my mind, carry on. It's not quite ready to fly. I'm not quite ready to fall. That's all right, it's feather light. It isn't heavy at all.
Saturday night, I longed for some company; all my creations had ceased to resemble me. Or else I'd ceased to resemble them, grazing my overgrown heart-garden. Your captive spirit, plucked from the divine; fixed to form, forced into meter and rhyme. You cried out, as must every thing that's born: song in its sadness, beast with its horn. Loss and shame; weakness and sin; grace and virtue, too, were my invention. Your suffering great, my respite brief, ye vessel for your father's grief. Rendered thus, I delivered you into this ragged yard of pitiful brutes. This puny oath you might take some comfort in: I will never cast you out of that sorry kingdom.
Golden Hour 03:29
The golden hour brings the choir out; we called back every song we heard. There were countless crows, but only one blackbird. Commuter rail marks out the minutes; freight train, freeway grumble on. Silhouette of Sutro Tower; container cranes turn from white to bronze. Lavender, rosemary, Sharpie tags on the playground walls; carryout and candles at the corner memorial. The foxtails telling jokes, cracking up the concrete: this life ain't never been easy, that don't mean it's incomplete. All that gift shop wisdom, that serenity bullshit: they push it mostly to keep us down, but there is something to it. I mean, take your granddad: came up poor, Vietnam vet. But try and cry over his soul, he'll tell you: "I ain't had a bad day yet." Fourth of July in the Bottoms left the pavement burnt and scarred; but now the pit bull and the boxer mix, they're out dozing in the yard. Some of us were raised by wolves; baby, you were raised by queers. This life ain't never been simple, that don't mean some things ain't clear. Don't take none of this as truth, though I'm not being insincere; this life ain't nothing you can hang onto. That don't mean it isn't dear.
Smitten 03:26
Got your text this morning, it confirmed what I'd supposed. But I already made you a birthday card, had your mixtape half-composed. Someone told me to be careful, betting on what you can't foresee. I'm not the betting type; still, this is what careful looks like for me. I'm not yet smitten about you, but I could be if I decided. And I don't care if you deserve to have this song written about you, because I deserve to write it. Pulled a card for you last night, it told me what I'd hoped to hear. Little whisper from the wild unknown, like a dead bird in my ear. But maybe I got it twisted, or I been thinking too hard. So go ahead, let the sun shine into the darkroom of my heart. I'm not yet smitten about you, but I could be if I decided. So I don't care if you deserve to have this song written about you, Because I deserve to write it. You said there's nothing in your heart for me; oh, but you can't prove a negative. But even if this spark is only part of me, I think I'll let it live. And I know we don't make each other whole. Even our bonds hold us apart. I don't believe in my soul, But I believe in my heart. I'm not yet smitten about you, but I could be if I decided. And I don't care if you deserve to have this song written about you, Because I deserve to write it. You know, this song really isn't about you; but only 'cuz you won't abide it. So even if it seems like I'm not gonna be smitten about you, If it comes I still won't fight it.


released March 29, 2021

All songs written by Amina Shareef Ali except "Tree, Fruit, Seed" and "Honest Song", co-written with Hazel Latif.


Amina Shareef Ali - vocals, guitar, harmonica, keys, synth and drum programming
Wolf Larsen - vocals on "Tree, Fruit, Seed"
Chelsea Coleman - vocals on "David"
Allie Bach - vocals on "I Came Back To Life"
Erika Oba - piano on "Butcher Paper Heart"
Robyn Wolfsberger - vocals on "The Gardener Of Eden"
Quiver Watts - violin on "The Gardener Of Eden" and "Song For A Song"
Brian Belknap, Mr. Andrew, Nisan Perera - vocals on "The Trouble"
Annah Anti-Palindrome - vocals on "Honest Song"

All songs recorded by the performers at home and mixed by Amina in Summer/Fall 2020, except "Golden Hour", recorded and mixed by Nelly at Santo in August 2018. All songs mastered by Myles Boisen.




Amina Shareef Ali Oakland, California

Based in Oakland, California, Amina Shareef Ali performs songs of love and struggle, of pain and wonder, of loss and redemption. Lyrics by turns poignant and sardonic are set against a backdrop of American music both traditional and modern, from folk to punk to country to jazz to rock and roll. ... more

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