The Topic At Hand: Seconds

Tolstoy, reworked: all happy endings are alike; every unhappy ending
is unhappy in its own way. “And they lived happily ever after”
doesn’t ask for details the way “it was going so well, until…” does.
And so unhappy songs seem to hold my interest better than happy ones;
and so this is an unhappy love letter from widower to his wife, a
quiet list of memories, a view into the mixed longing and complaint of
a too-short, badly ended life together.

As a writer my reach often exceeds my grasp, and so I fall back on
songwriting, where the shortness of the form keeps me honest but lets
me at least hint at with vignette what I have trouble laying out
explicitly in prose. And having written and recorded the song, I’m
left almost as much as the listener to try and make sense of those
hints myself, to fill in the gaps in the story, the things that
happened between that chance meeting in Asian History and that final
irreparable theft. All the counting out of the years and weeks and


and the way that we met
in the Purple Room at Powells
at Asian History

and I was browsing for samurai
and you were researching suicide

and we joked about the privilege
of affording good beheadings
by your seconds

and the first time we went
to your mother’s house
for Thanksgiving

and the turkey that you
warned me would be too dry
was too dry

and the smile in her eyes
when I went back cheerful
for seconds

and all the time that we had
months in love
months of struggle

and all the time that we lost
all the time that you took
that you stole from us

and I count it all out
by years and weeks and hours
and seconds

Preview image by felixtsao.

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8 responses to “Affording Good Beheadings”

  1. The phrase that is really going to stick with me (and that I've already starting singing it to myself a few times) is “…and the turkey that you warned me would be too dry/was too dry.”

    So much universal experience packed into that detail.

  2. Song reminds me a little of Daniel Johnston. Not sure if you like his stuff or not but it's definitely meant as a compliment.
    I'm curious as to your choice of 'months' in love and 'months' in struggle instead of 'years' as I (perhaps incorrectly) assumed these folks had spent many years together – possibly having epic and passionate in their gaudy asian themed decorated apartment over when to have dinner.
    At any rate, I thought the song was great.

    • epic and passionate arguments is what I meant to say

    • Josh Millard says:

      I (hazily) agree with your years-not-months analysis, fwiw. I don't think it's quite concrete, but it feels like it should be years, however many there were.

      The way that line came about, I was playing around with temporal quantifiers and seeing how I could work all these different common units into the lyrics, specifically in that final verse where what had been more momentary/episodic recollections earlier became a sort of flurry of more precise but less specific accounting. And I had years and weeks and hours and seconds spoken for, and months nowhere to be found, and so it happened.

      The ambiguity there has been itching at me ever since, but I have a habit of chewing unhappily on lyrics for a long time without actually fixing them and just ending up feeling put out without getting anywhere. So when problems don't solve themselves quickly, I tend to just let 'em go and call it done.

      I am a recent fan of Daniel Johnston, yeah; I was introduced to him by my good friends The Harvey Girls when I was playing with them, and last year I recorded a cover of True Love Will Find You In The End.

  3. Rachel B says:

    I'm intrigued by pronoun choice in “all the time you stole from us.” assuming it's directed at the other lover. It's such an intensely personal perspective–such that I wonder if you could ever actually say that to another person and mean it. After all: how can “you” take time from “us” without the other partner somehow consenting?

    Unless there is another “You” who's not in the relationship. In which case, ignore all above. But it's still interesting that “we” lost and “you” took. I could go on–either way, fascinating word choices here.

    I thought the whole song was great…wonderful sound…words aside.

  4. […] Good Beheadings by cortex MeFi Music This is a song I wrote in late August, for bingo’s Revolving Floor project. I started from the naked gimmick of trying to re-use the word “seconds” in the […]

  5. […] is a song I wrote in late August, for bingo’s Revolving Floor project. I started from the naked gimmick of trying to re-use the word “seconds” in the […]

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The Author

Josh Millard

Josh Millard is a musician and computer geek living in Portland, Oregon. He is full of bad ideas, some of which he follows through on. He should probably update his blog more often. Josh is one of the moderators of Metafilter, where he goes by cortex. He once ate a very large donut on camera, and the internet will not stop reminding him about it.

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