Free verse

Film still from 1943’s Phantom of the Opera where masked title character is in opening above chandelier, sawing its chain.
Cropped lobby card for 1943 The Phantom of the Opera, on Wikimedia Commons.

The reach of high art
is a lofty, sinking opera house
and life’s unrequited love for us,
pulling us to rafters of creation
and back to the seat of sewer

The cursed opera house:
a cinematography
of poison and perfume,
satin caped swoons
velvet curtain crush,
thick ropes, muscled
voices on high,
tenuous, starlit lairs
swinging elegant threat

the chandelier shadow
is the ruin
of hollow under stage
and scaffold belies
crumbling foundation;
the spot of horror
on the lavish set,
the poised façade
of her cherubim dimples
belie his acid-grotesque scars

We vibrate
on the opening night,
deliver dark desires
and pageantry of mask,
contoured orbit framing
beholder’s eye,
the phantom yearning

No golden age outshines
the crime of its art,
the caving of eras
and heartache running through
half-formed and reaching,
then onto the next
unreachable muse

Jessica Lee McMillan © 2021


Welcome to our record — strap your shit in

Closeup of spoon with ABC noodles above red-patterned bowl of alphabet soup o yellow tablecloth.
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

“We’re in New Orleans. We’re out of our minds. Welcome to our record — strap your shit in. — Christopher Thorn of Blind Melon on Soup

There was a time when critics could single-handedly take down an album with a negative review.

Music critics create a certain amount of accountability for integrity in music and I hold them in high enough regard for their intense scholarship and dextrous effort to put a language (writing) to another (music). It’s what we are doing here on The Riff every time we submit a story.

But for albums like Blind Melon’s haunting triumph…


Heralds of the wall of sound

Heraldic crest with two lions drumming under skull
Image by Alexander Lesnitsky from Pixabay

Drums are the backbeat crash and flam, tom and groove, downbeat, tempo, double strike roll that ensnare and ride the high hat of our minds in polyrhythms.

If these essential drum terms exhilarate in the written word, imagine their amplification played on two drum kits in tandem.

If it is not immediately obvious why a band would add a second drummer, you haven’t seen two drummers on a stage or don’t have much of an imagination.

Just thrum your fingers on the desk, then add a second hand. Whether the beat is timed equally or one drummer takes rhythm and…


Free verse

Salt formations on the Dead Sea surface shot from a helicopter.
Salt formations on the Dead Sea by Andrew Shiva on Wikimedia Commons

Next to your bed I breathe
the salt of the earth in your hair
the salt of the sun in your eye
the salt of the sea of your night

In my dreams you rest on a bed of salt
preserved with the savour of life
reviving my saltwater blood
and the iron it corrodes
with the union of love and strife

And as your blood dries
slain and sustained
in the ash of combustion
your salt is the axis
of corruption and life

Your body is mineral memory of primordial sea, of cosmic waters freed and revived in the…

Jessica Lee McMillan

MA Eng. Mama, Poet, Iconoclast, Word Nerd. Likes shiny things. Writes on Philosophy, Art, Music, Nature.

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