On Discovering Program Notes
For My Mother's College Voice Recital
Dated May 2, 1929
I find it among old photographs
in my sister's closet. I calculate:
twenty years from then, age forty-one,
my mother will die
and I will be four years old.
Come night, I try to dream about it:
eight o'clock, a college chapel in eastern Iowa,
and my mother about to sing
in the languages of Strauss, Fauré.
But in my dream I can't get inside;
I am too young, a man says at the door,
"just a little boy," and must stay outside
in the garden. "Sit under the lilac bush,"
he says, "next to the graveyard. Listen."
But the walls of the chapel, the windows,
and even the heart-shaped leaves
are in the way, and what I hear is like
those murmuring conversations downstairs
I overheard at night my parents' voices,
fragmented, nonsensically sing-song,
lapping like water at darkness
and nearly as soon as it begins,
I ask the man who has kept me out,
"When does the singing end?
When will the dream be over?"
"Stop acting so little and listen," he says.
"Inside, the grown-ups are crying, your mother's song
reminds them so of loneliness. Be quiet
or you'll miss your mother's voice."