the saltpeter wars

by peter j hochstedler

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The Saltpeter Wars is a collection of songs of resistance and defeat. Its geography is varied but centers around a mountain, a brain, under siege. Buses blow up, mountain people pickax the raw material of bombs from mine tunnels, and a strange old child sets off from his mountain home on a raft into the Pacific as the moon watches enhaunting.

The musical terrain is equally strewn about a defiant core, harmonious shrapnel around a tightly-formed crater. Entire armies of singing peters encroach, drum loops buffet, sparse synths lilt and adumbrate; this is new folk.

Don't be fooled by its soft melodies; neither by its intimations at rage. Haven't you heard? The moon is a brain circumlocuting this polypanoply from a distance, smiling and laughing, offering its quiet light and a promise of home that does not sequitur.

"Undoubtedly one of the best songwriters of his time . . . Peter deliciously mixes the ugly with the beautiful . . . and creates a world wrought with religious implications, meditations on an all-encompassing God that no one can trust, and a world where people are knocked around and dragged out. It’s not the happiest thing, but, and, yes, I dare compare them: Dylan had the same knack." - Angelica Music, Burlington, VT

"The Iris Apfel of the music world . . . Salt-Peter is one of the few people I know who has remained in but not of the world of reduced-fat milk."
- Pale Blue Atlas Club Sunday Review


released June 18, 2012

cover art by the wonderful Kelsey Garrity-Riley:

the part of the Wildgoose on "wildgoose" immaculately performed by Rachel Laitman:

some sweet vocal arrangements on "fools on the highway" by Angela Willson




peter j hochstedler South Bend, Indiana

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Track Name: do not walk my road
do not walk my road
no, do not walk my road
my road’s a dark devilgoose that leads too manywheres
and you should not walk there

do not sing my song
no, do not sing my song
my song’s just some tongue-twisting twin-tangled story spinning
unspooled, there ain’t nothing

do not fork my tongue
no, do not fork my tongue
my tongue’s already been cloven, cured with salt from a mountain
it does not need to happen again

do not treat my wound
no, do not treat my wound
my haphazard incision will bear us many children
I would prefer it left open

and do not kiss my ass
do not kiss my ass
my ass, it is filthy from riding this bus
you do not want to kiss this

but come and share my feed
come and share my feed
darling, your lips have grown ghostly and you stumble through your body
it is feed that you need

(maybe some food would do you good?)
Track Name: smoke that rose from the old house
the smoke that rose from the old house
was the same smoke that smoldered in my chest the other night
and it said, “what if you are mistaken—
what if this fire in your gut is burning you alive?”

and I, with my hunger,
was suddenly just jot someone tittled from an old-fashioned pen
and the house, for all its familiars
was undone by the same flame that warmed our wintered hands

it was money that made me angry
that cut me loose on the world with my soap-dodgin’ rhymes
it was capital, said “come all you weary
and I will give you pills and products to make your sick skin shine!”

and I, with the road that rides me,
I pass through towns where the anger hangs limp-limbed from the eaves
and the smoke of an occupation
just one last twitching of the fingers of a soldier
ground out by a war-machine

how does a bomb feel?
buildings don’t just blow up on their own!
mountains don’t just die!
they go on twiddling their thumbs in quiet, headless lives

we pulled into the station
I was humming this song in a soft tremolo
we were cattled, like dogs in a cage,
starved frantic to find some object for our rage

I struck a match into a gas tank
like a band strikes up a song or a child strikes an animal
we floated between the flames
saints unsinged but unsure of to which god we had prayed
Track Name: saltpeter
they set me up.

all hail the unarguable cock-click
all hail the impossible party trick
saltpeter in the veins of a mountain
saltpeter in the chamber of a gun
peter come to your place where the people are
peter strumming eyes-closed on the guitar
smallpeter with his brain there rattling
tinyass peter with his mouth there, muttering
petermutter about a mountain in his brain
peterstutter bout a chamber in his veins
peter beat around the pit where the trouble is
can’t look straight at the place where the devil lives
see his head there bent by the light rays
see his body there rent in a light fray
head here, body there, with the bullet marks
making slight quark waves, bullets in his slight frame buckled

give me a moment to explain this abyss!

“we could trap him in a corner of space time
we could strap him to the shaft of a saltmine
we could pin him with the point of a light cone
vandalize his inner chamber when he isn’t home
cock-click, clock-tick, how about them mountains now?
talkpeter, saltlick, you and your broken brow,
you got some nerve with your tinyasspartytrickpickle
making noise with a sock stuck in your mouth.”

when all the world over will love one another, will be a beautiful sound
when all the rumbling chambers crumble together,
will be a beautiful sound,
will be a beautiful--

I, peter, have a rock loose
you could collapse me if you want to
make me scramble up my metaphors
make me ramble bout a saltwar
keep your pickle cockhard with my salt brine
keep your rifle cocksure with my saltmine
cock crowing out the corner of my space time
your cock crew with a saltpeter gunchime
witness! I saw jacob in the desert land
witness! trading blows with a strange man
adonai, you can wrestle down a mountain
and capitalize, conquest but can’t nationalize
what you headlock, pop sockets,
short circuits, spark sprockets,
it’s in your pocket, fuckit I get it
my knees broken, but that isn’t bending
you can end me, I will never surrender to your rending
you got me on the bottom
but my heart is saltpure and all you got’s sodom
o you gods of the saltwars
I was born wrought from rock of this mountain!

they set me up with this brain I was born in.
Track Name: clementine
how the old fuckers came
cocked guns, drawn blades
signed our mountains, dear, with their incision
chiseled out a cold dark
tools chipping at my heart
bound it by their profits and provisions

all of my mountains dear
gutted and naked here
headless and naked here
trembling naked here, with tubes right through you

darling at your window there
said, “I love this mountain air.”
but you were harboring the men with guns
and kissing you, holding your hips,
I swear I felt the cold grip
of a blade that didn’t exist until it was drawn

darling my heart’s been rent
on your blade again
on your shape again
on your face again
but the last time I outdrew you

hallelu, hallelu
and we go to the mines
we play our spades just right
the canary coughs
and we work for the man
o my sweet clementine
I count knots in our rope

darling, they didn’t leave us much
rockbed, stifftouch
jobs they use to spin war to the papers
we’re chiseling out a tunnel here
you turn in the gutted air
and ask me if I believe you gave them harbor

well I can’t remember the sky
and you got no alibi
(or do you?)
Track Name: man on the womoon
is this my house?
is this my house?
it is faced like a clock face
it is chaste in the moans that it makes
I am the only one in here

is this my body?
is this my face?
it faces the moon’s phases
I keep my hours in piss and prayer
I am the only one in here

all hail the man on the womoon
he is face without body, he orbits slowly
shifting the shadows in my room
howling out ghastly or lovelily lonely
unto the chambers of my house

is this my country?
is this my land?
it is defaced by its own hand
its arms are steroidal
its sickness unavoidable
it keeps its hours with a shining sand

is this my bourbon?
this my rye?
this my lunar lullaby?
a disembodied rocking chair--
I am the only one in here

all hail the man on the womoon
cawing out a crow’s cacaw
or bearing a man’s maw
I count the corners of my room
are they quickening toward me
oh, impossible morning!

I hail the man on the womoon
does he have a brain in that orb?
or some invisible cord?
I hear the laughter of the loon
ocean is bending beneath us
laughters, lapping, enwreathe us

god help the man on the womoon
his brow is buckled
he a self-made cuckold
he playing the shadows of my room
closing them in like wolves,
opening like jaws--
are the people in this house?

I had my mind made up for me
someone fashioned it for free
wound it up with a face like a clock
in a room that is dark
and a loon’s lonely laughter
Track Name: fools on the highway
fools on the highway

ten years since I left my home
and I heard it ain’t there no more
heard it burned with the same fire
that burns in my bag of bones
my god where you taking me?
pulsing veins of a tawny road

with the spinning wheels

fires on the highway
fires in the valley
fires all inside me

dreamer jake packed his pillow stone
he an mose were mesa-bound
and that old spinster miriam was a hippy-child
she up an took her tambourine to the puget sound
my god what you spinning me?
ten years maybe thirty more?
got some mountain up your sleeve?
or a garden home on the pacific shore?

with the spinning wheels
spindle sing and the jenny wail
with the spinning wheels

someone burned the hearse of a house down--
someone dug the trembling mountain out--
anyone is free now--
anyone carried around the bag you were born in--

fools on the highway
fools at the bp
fools in the driver’s sea
fools of a family

fires on the highway!
fires in the valley!
fires all inside me!
ash in my coffee—in my coffee!
Track Name: wildgoose
with her breath in my lungs
I am already gone
wildgoose, your call--
wildgoose, your flutter--
with her rhythm in my chest
thunderous mountain of mine
can’t feel but the fool
can’t move but in time

grow old, grow old
grow whorled and weary
grow wild with moss
and mountain lily

with his tongue in my mouth
I am already gone
saltpeter, your war--
saltpeter, your wasteland--
with his taste on my beak
his thorn in my side--
his sweat in my pores--
his desert in my mind--

grow old my child
but I am older
I sparked your fire
and stoked your smolder

don’t be knocking at my door
I am already gone
wildgoose my raft
wildgoose my waters
with these bones in my skin
and a war on my back
shove out alone
shove out together

the young, the old
are slow of motion
and drift and dream
upon the ocean

cradle’s on the western waves
my child, my child
my moon is a watchful eye
sleep with the swell, the pummeling

whales are in the western deep
how long, how long?
my moon is a distant world
drawing the dreams of travelers

jake be nimble, jake be quick
my child, my child
what wound are you after here?
ropes on a raft, a runaway

baby’s in the western sea
how long, how long?
my moon is an ancient orb
sounding your ocean quietus
Track Name: o my brain
o my brain, they took you away from me
left you a-dangling from the flowering eaves
of a linden tree
stole my brain for a lark

o my lover, my brow is tight tonight
circuits sparking out in the falling light
and you offer an olive leaf
on my way to the dark

o my body, what ape fashioned you?
clove your consciousness from primordial stew?
for a cosmic zoo?
hurtling round in the dark
dangling from a tree in the park
stoked and sparking out for a lark

god, can you hear me now?
I got lost somehow
I don’t know where I fit in
all I got’s an aching skull
and a broken radio
it’s singing to me again and again:


o my lover, you have a broken man
dandling the linden leaf from a cloven hand
on a plot of land
on my way to the dark