City on Fire

My song “City on Fire” was released July 9, 2021. I wrote it off and on from 2016–2020, when it felt like so many things were falling apart…but it also felt like they needed to fall apart. So, if at any point during those years you felt disillusioned, angry, afraid, utterly confused, or disappointed — or if you currently feel any of these things — I think you might like this song. 

You can listen to it here →

Full lyrics and song credits below.

“City on Fire”

All the songs I love are written by people who fade away
How can I trust anyone when they just want their own way?
Silence isn’t golden when it’s time to have something to say
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

One by one we fall until there’s no one left to lead the way
We thought they would save us but our dreams were all naïveté
Every single lie became an ember that went up in flames
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

This is the breakdown
Of all we thought was safe for us
A place for us
Home to us
Do we even know how to let go?

The wind carries us to the edge of the wilderness
‘Exiled Outliers’ tattooed upon our flesh 
But the desert is a refuge when the city is burning down
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

This is the breakdown
Of all we thought was safe for us
A place for us
Home to us
Do we even know how to let go?
‘Cause we can’t go back

Torn apart
Can’t go back
We need a
Can’t go back

The flames are the way forward
The flames are the way

We need a breakdown
Before we start to build again
So can we just let go


Composer: Jessica Cotten
Lyricist: Jessica Cotten
Producer: Josh Bahl and Jessica Cotten
Mixer: Josh Bahl
Engineer: Josh Bahl
Drums: Adam Bahl
Mastering Engineer: Neil Hampton
Artwork: Joseph Cotten
Recorded at Attic Recording Studio, Harrisburg, PA.

Me, Her, and Words Like Swords

We stood on the precipice, the wind bellowing in my ears and whipping her long dress and hair all about. She was taller than me. I had somehow forgotten about that. Maybe because she never feels intimidating.  

It was easy to be with her. Even today. Even when things had gotten so messed up, and the land below us was being marred by a battle I hadn’t started and didn’t want to join.

My eyes scanned the land below us that stretched out as a blanket of the softest green. In previous times, it had been a peaceful place. The kind of place you go to practice flying a kite, or to look for caterpillars, or to race your little brother from the oak tree to the stream. 

Today was different, though. 

The landscape was filled with people who, from this high up, looked like tiny figures jolting back and forth at one another. I couldn’t see details of their dress or their faces, but I didn’t need to. Because I heard them.

Their voices rose in volume as if they had each been handed a megaphone and were shouting through it, as if the person in front of them would not be able to hear what they were saying without it. Insults struck the air like slaps across the face. Belligerent cries of vengeance ricocheted around the field. Words that taunted, words that maimed, words that held them in annihilation’s grip. 

They were at war, these people. And their weapons were words.

“I don’t know how it started, or how to end it,” I admitted, the echoes of their weapons piercing my ears in the worst way. 

Her arms were loose at her sides, her gaze fixed upon the land and its people. The profile of her face held no tension as the wind blew strands of her hair across it. She seemed poised and strong. But then a single tear rolled down her right cheek.

“This is what humans do,” she said. “When they don’t remember who they are.”

Humans. She had said it so softly I almost couldn’t hear it over the shouts of people below. She had said it tenderly. Mournfully. As if she was one of us and a connection had been severed. As if we were the same.

But I knew.

I knew that she carried herself in ways we could not. I knew that she had spent years carrying others in ways we refused to. And I knew that even though she and I were alive and breathing and standing there together on the precipice, that we were not the same.

She had her own ways of doing things; I have only ever witnessed a few of them. But in that moment, when she said the humans had forgotten who they were, I knew what she would do next. She would go down into the battle and try to stop the fighting. She would stand next to each person, saying something to try to help them find a way out. Some would listen to her. Others would break out their weapons and cut her. She would bleed. And once she knew they didn’t want out of the battle, she would let them go. They would continue doing whatever they did, and she would return, either to a resting place or to another land that needed her.

I knew it would happen like this because I had met her once after she had visited another battle. Traces of blood had marked her sleeves, but there were no wounds on her skin. She had some magical way of healing. I was still trying to understand it. I was still trying to understand her.

So today—even today—I did as I always do when she speaks. I inhaled her words as if they were air. They sank into me like water sinks into dirt. And I prayed, for the thousandth time, that I might one day be like her: able to stand in each present moment truthfully, but never without hope.

Remember who you are, she keeps telling me. 

Remember who you are.

The Circus Is On

I would like to gather somewhere,
Move with
Belong to
Partake in something


Without the bologna of
A group of well-dressed men
Sitting on the front row
Reveling in their hierarchy.

Stages are set
For the well-dressed.
Megaphones handed
To those with stories
Of their own greatness.
Speeches detailing great exploits,
Exhales of ego,
Leaders puffed up
Strutting like peacocks,
Though less beautiful
And more ridiculous.

The thirst for power
Cannot be quenched

Some in the crowd are awed.
Some know better.


The underground
Holds promise.
Listen to the humble,
Cherish the lowly,
Sit with the oppressed.
Look for the ordinary
Abiding elsewhere
Far from
Empty promises,
Reputation-enhancing machines,
Appetites for fame.

The circus.

The Peddler

Well, aren’t you the fanciest salesman I’ve ever seen!
What’s this you’re selling? GOD?
I don’t recognize God in your swagger.
Your clothes are a little too fancy.
And your promise of “more” and “better”
         sounds like a trumpet out of tune.
What’s that? You want money?
What? It’s not for you?
Oh, it’s for your travel expenses.
         your bright lights.
         your bodyguards.
         “the mission”.
Funny, the way you say it makes it all sound so enticing.
I understand why people fall for this.
It is power.
It is control.
It is esteem.
It is alleviation
         of a guilt
             I didn’t have
               until you came around.

Welcome to the Wildflowers

I seek answers
Among the wildflowers.
They, amidst rocks
They, throughout droughts
They, the daring ones.
Serene, subversive.

“Teach me how to grow,” I say to them.

They are tutors, and I listen.

An offering.”
Ensemble of experience.

“An offering?” I ask.

A wilting begins
In one of them
Leaves curl, then drop.
“It’s my time,” it whispers and bends.
Seeds scatter.
The ground is richer
From the flower’s surrender.

Ah, this kind of offering.
This kind of trust.

A pace
A time
A stature
Called surrender.

I find my heart
Among the wildflowers.
Their field, a meeting place
My heart, a greeting place
For life, in its own time.

The Gifts No One Wants

Patience and perseverance.
Patience and perseverance.

I’m repeating those two words to myself.
I’m repeating them here. 

Patience and perseverance.

They do not roll off the tongue as other words do – words like success, blessing, ease, triumph, happy ending.
How ironic, then, that “perseverance” and “patience” are the very words that lead to all those other serotonin-inducing words. 

Perseverance isn’t popular,
Which is problematic,
For it is a potent pathway to progress.

These are chaotic times. The world is in transition. I know you feel it. Here are two takes I have on the matter:

Patience and Perseverance. There you go.
{Another take I have is The Art of Conversation}.

Between here and there, between now and then, in the middle, on the way, before the arrival…is this thing called real life. So much of real life is about patience and perseverance.

I’d prefer utopia.

I planted some Bee Balm in the garden in late April, and it’s only about 6″ tall. Nowhere near flowering. I’m thinking that maybe in September it will be full grown? I’m not sure. I just keep tending to them as best I can. So much of gardening is about patience and perseverance.

I started writing a novel about 7 years ago. I finished it late last year, and am now in the middle of the second draft…seven years later. To me, that’s a lot of waiting. A lot of miserable edits and postponing and delaying and self-doubts. I recently heard of an author who spent ten years just doing the world building for his novel, before he even started the writing process. So much of writing is about patience and perseverance.

Ideas and hopes and dreams take time.
Lots of time.
Lots of hard work.
Lots of patience and perseverance.
I don’t like that. 
I like “immediately if not sooner”.

But it’s the perseverance, 
the steady determination, 
and the patience 

that propel me into the future. 

Where Few Want To Wander

If there is a way
To life
     True life
          The happy kind
          The kind where we are embraced
          And safe
          And fulfilled
          The kind where hope is not buried
          Too deep below ground.
If there is a way to life like this,
It must be
A passageway 
Too thin to stretch my arms out,
A margin
Not meant to be exclusive
But avoided by most,
A periphery
That empties you out
One long egocentric breath at a time.

The sun drops below the horizon
A mist settles
A light scatters
Among shadows.
For a few easily ignored moments,
We have dusk.
Thin, narrow, brief,
But crammed with meaning. 

When I’ve experienced the richness of life
Every path taken to get there
Has been narrow.
Narrow like dusk,
Narrow like dawn.
Easy to miss,
Easy to curse.

The narrow way is an unexpected visitor
When your table is not set.
The narrow way is an unpaved road
Next to the highway.
It is the ancient wisdom
We are too proud to hear,
And the love
We are too biased to show.

Narrow moments are upon us
Born in the dark and in the unknown
Where few want to wander.

Without Fire

I saw a falling star tonight
It was beautiful
We admire the beautiful things, you know
But did you forget?
This star
Lighting the sky
Was also burning,

We crave beauty
We crave glory
We crave the gasps we make
When stars fall from the sky.
We rarely realize
The cost
The pain
The fire
The death.

We want our path.
Our path wants mystery.
Mystery wants faith.

Faith without fire
Is no faith at all.

Beat Down

I don’t have much to give.

My heart, though

Is wide open.

Wilted, you see.

Ready to receive

Some love

All the love

Any love.

Patience and Pain and Anti-Mediocrity

Edits for first draft of my book came back.
I crawled into a ditch of  “I’m A Worthless Writer, This Story Is Garbage, And I’ll Never Write Anything Ever Again.”
I stayed in the ditch for several days.
Ate pizza and ice cream sandwiches.
Watched movies. 

And then, I crawled out.

Art takes time.
Growth as an artist—or a human being for that matter—is painful.
Beware of rushing. 
Beware of ego. 
Beware of greed.
These three things push us to produce something that is not ready to be released, and to deliver mediocrity to the world.

Will we embrace the pain and the time it takes to make something that is more than mediocre?

Do we realize that mediocrity is everywhere?

Are we really ok with that?