SongFest Recital                      17 June, 2019

Dove Sta Amore is framed by a quizzically rising vocal line in the first song “Somebody somewhere maybe can tell” and in the last, “Dove sta amore.” What follows is a series of snapshots that beg the question “Where lies love?” The first three songs are on poems of Carl Sandburg.

The vacillating harmonies of Maybe mirror the speaker's ambivalence.


On reading Sea Chest, I remembered a friend's comment that relationships are not always a 50-50 proposition. The couple's story is played out against the backdrop of rocking waves and the cries of seabirds.


The Hangman at Home is an arch attempt to humanize the executioner, portraying him in wholesome domestic scenes with his family (the noose swings ominously in the background as he eats his breakfast.) The poem ends with the absurd image of the hangman adoringly gazing at his sleeping child bathed in moonlight.


In stark contrast, the gentle lullaby How Many Little Children Sleep asks in essence, 'who will be tomorrow's executioners, and who the condemned?'


Finally, Dove Sta Amore explicitly articulates the question. Context is everything: in itself, Ferlinghetti's beat riff is innocuous enough, but placed after what's come before, it rings rather hollow.


The cycle was commissioned by Concert Artists Guild and premiered by Cyndia Sieden and Steven Blier.


Maybe


MAYBE he believes me, maybe not.

Maybe I can marry him, maybe not.

Maybe the wind on the prairie,

The wind on the sea, maybe,

Somebody somewhere, maybe, can tell.

I will lay my head on his shoulder

And when he asks me I will say yes,

Maybe.


Sea Chest


THERE was a woman loved a man

as the man loved the sea.

Her thoughts of him were the same

as his thoughts of the sea.

They made an old sea chest for their belongings

together.


The Hangman at Home


WHAT does the hangman think about

When he goes home at night from work?

When he sits down with his wife and

Children for a cup of coffee and a

Plate of ham and eggs, do they ask

Him if it was a good day's work

And everything went well or do they

Stay off some topics and talk about

The weather, baseball, politics

And the comic strips in the papers

And the movies?  Do they look at his

Hands when he reaches for the coffee

Or the ham and eggs?  If the little

Ones say, Daddy, play horse, here's

A rope - does he answer like a joke:

I seen enough rope for today?

Or does his face light up like a

Bonfire of joy and does he say:

It's a good and dandy world we live

In.  And if a white face moon looks

In through a window where a baby girl

Sleeps and the moon-gleams mix with

Baby ears and baby hair - the hangman -

How does he act then?  It must be easy

For him.  Anything is easy for a hangman,

I guess.

                       - Carl Sandburg


How Many Little Children Sleep


How many little children sleep

To wake, like you, only to weep:

How many others play who will

Like you, and all men, weep and kill.


And many parents watch and say,

Where they weep, where they play,

"By all we love, by all we know,

It never shall befall them so."


But in each one the terror grows

By all he loves, by all he knows,

"Soon they must weep; soon they shall kill.

No one wills it, but all will."


But in each one the terror moves

By all he knows, by all he loves,

"Soon they will weep; soon they will kill.

No one wills it, but all will."

                  - James Agee


Dove Sta Amore…


   Dove sta amore

    Where lies love

    Dove sta amore

      Here lies love

  The ring dove love

    In lyrical delight

Hear love's hillsong

Love's true willsong

Love's low plainsong

Too sweet painsong

In passages of night

    Dove sta amore

      Here lies love

  The ring dove love

    Dove sta amore

      Here lies love

               - Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Summer Stars (the poem by plain-spoken, populist Chicago bard Carl Sandburg) was written for the Opera America Songbook, and was premiered and recorded by Amy Burton in 2012.


Summer Stars


Bend low again, night of summer stars.

So near you are, sky of summer stars,

So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,

Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,

So near you are, summer stars,

So near, strumming, strumming,

          So lazy and hum-strumming.


               - Carl Sandburg


“To face the truth of the passing away of the world and make song of it, make beauty of it, is not to solve the riddle of our mortal lives, but perhaps to accomplish something more.” (MacLeish: Poetry and Experience)


Sarah's Song was written for the 20th anniversary of the AIDS Quilt Songbook and the text is taken from MacLeish's play  J. B.  - the story of a modern day Job.  At the end of the play, when his all alone, his world in shambles, his wife Sarah returns to him, holding a twig of forsythia.  A redaction of their conversation before her final soliloquy is worth quoting:


J.B.          He (God) does not love.  He

                Is.

Sarah:         But we do.  That's the wonder.

J.B.             It's too dark to see.

Sarah:         Then blow on the coal of the heart, my

               darling.    

J. B.         The coal of the heart...


Sarah's Song was premiered by Amy Burton at the Cooper Union auditorium in December 2012.


Sarah's Song


Blow on the coal of the heart…       It's all the light now.


Blow on the coal of the heart.
The candles in churches are out.


The lights have gone out in the sky.

Blow on the coal of the heart
And we'll see by and by...
We'll see where we are.




Cry for justice and the stars
 Will stare until your eyes sting. Weep,


Enormous winds will thrash the water.

Cry in sleep for your lost children,

Snow will fall...

          Snow will fall.


Blow on the coal of the heart...
     It's all the light now.


The wit won't burn and the wet soul smoulders.

Blow on the coal of the heart and we'll know...

We'll know...

We'll see where we are.


               - Archibald MacLeish


James Laughlin was advised to give up writing poetry by his one-time mentor Ezra Pound. Happily, not only did he persevere and leave a significant volume of collected poems, he also founded New Directions publishing, which disseminated the work of Pound, Bishop, Williams, Stevens and a host of other mid-century poets.


Laughlin's poetry speaks of love and lust (sometimes quite voyeristically), of things remembered, and, at times, the frustrated obsession of an older man for a much younger woman.  The Brief Light was written for baritone Patrick Mason and guitarist David Starobin for their Crazy Jane recording, rerealeased as New Music for Guitar Volume 12.  


The title is taken from Catullus:

     

            ...cum semel occidit brevis lux, nox est perpetua una dormienda.

             ...once the brief light sets, night is an endless sleeping.


When You Danced


For me those steps of flamenco

There was no music but you clap-


ped your hands and arched your

back & stomped with your heels


& your skirts flew and a smile

of radiant delight was on your


face and my thoughts went back

to Tarragona so many years ago


when I joined the ring of dan-

cers with Cynthia in the square


oh she is long gone I know not

where but you brought her back


to me for a moment & gave me

yourself even more beautiful.





Song


O lovely lovely so lovely

just fresh from a night of


it lovely     oh I saw you at

nine in the morning coming


home in the street with no

hat and your coat clutched


tight but not hiding your

evening dress     lovely and


fresh from a night of it

lovely     you stopped at the  


curb for the light & your

eye caught mine     lovely so


lovely     and you knew that

I knew and you knew that


I wanted you too so fresh

from a night of it lovely.


The Voices


It is sin it is sin it is a

Deadly sin whines the tired

          old voice in


The back of his head    you'll

Take her love but you can't

         give yourself

It will end in misery & end

In remorse    it is sin whines

        the tired old


voice     it is love it is love

sings the voice in the heart

        you will bring


her a happiness she has never

known before you'll bring her

        to life and


she'll burn with love's won-

derful fire      but it's sin no

        it's love cry


the voices together and sadly

and happily madly he enters

        again the soft

        and delectable

        battle of Love.


Occidit brevis lux

(The brief light sets)


Is it the end of the world to

Indulge an old man who adores


you    for you are young & lovely

and have the excitement of a


dozen who knows perhaps even a

score of lovers before you     but


for him the stars are waning and

he feels the sadness even the ter-


ror of the long night that is com-

ing on    he knows that nox est una


perpetua dormienda that longest

night when he'll see you no more.


The Summons


He went out to their glorious

War & went down in it and his

     Last belief was


Her love as he breathed flame

In the waves and sank burning

     Now I lie under


His picture in the dark room

In the wife's bed and partake

     Of his unknown


Life     does he see does he stand

In the room does he feel does

     He burn again


Later I wake in the night while

She sleeps and call out to him

     Wanderer come


Return to this bed & embody the

Love that was yours and is hers

     And is mine

     And endures.


I have drifted


off to sea from you but

you were not abandoned


Ariadne    we were playing

in the sand like child-  


ren    we waded in the sea

a current carried me a-


way but left you on the

shore    your life is yours


again    I cannot will not

harm you more    your eyes


were soft & sad    I loved

you as I never loved be-


fore but now the ancient

sea has carried me away.


               - James Laughlin


The Scottish Songs were written for the birthday of Nicholas Russell, and old friend from our sojourn in Glasgow, when my wife sang with the Scottish Opera.  This project gave me the opportunity to make the acquaintance of several superb poets from Scotland.  Since all of them (except Alexander Anderson) are still very much with us, I'll let them speak for themselves:


Spell of the Bridge


These words were inspired by the Faery Bridge in the small town of Dunblane, where the author grew up.  The fragile footbridge arcs over the Allan Water, a fast flowing river which rises in the Ochil Hills of Perthshire and joins the River Forth near Stirling.  


Hold the wish on your tongue

As you cross

What the bridge cannot hear

Cannot fall


For the river would carry

Your hopes to the sea

To the net of a stranger

To the silt bed of dreams


Hold the wish on your tongue

As you cross

And on the far side

Let the wish go first


                         - Helen Lamb


Atheist Lighting a Candle in Albi Cathedral *


The poem is dedicated to an acquaintance of mine, a writer, who died far too young. We did not know one another very well, and my discomfort with entering a church as a non-believer provided a parallel for the guilt I felt about mourning his death. He was also the person for whom I wished to light the candle in the first place. I'm not Catholic (though there is a sublimated streak of Catholicism in my family), but I appreciated the beauty of the cathedral, and felt attracted in the moment to the consolations on offer.  


[*The accompaniment is taken from the plainchant Salve Regina. - J.M.]


It seems to matter

I use a Zippo,

not the taper's monkish flame.


It seems to matter I choose the white

over red before asking the difference,


that I love the fresco's talented horse

though couldn't name his rider –


but what's not authentic at the Virgin's feet?

She knows I am not a bad person, just troubled.

She knows the wick is burning.


               - Frances Leviston


Flowers


My father used to buy flowers for my mother after they'd had a row and he wanted to get back into her good books. The flowers made her furious. Many years later, when I was involved in a protracted sexual affair, I longed for those silly romantic symbols that so annoyed my mother. If you have an illicit relationship, the other person may not bring gifts. Gifts mean money has to be spent and someone may notice. All the same, I did want a present. I loved gardening. I suggested he bring me a plant out of his garden, something I could nurture and grow. He said he would, but he forgot. In the end, it wasn't a cold he gave me, but another infection. I forgave everything and blamed myself. I was profoundly, pathetically and pointlessly in love. He and I were stuck in that situation for four years. But you learn. Eventually, you learn.  


The affair was all coming and going

in snatched half-hours.

Not seeing the need

he never brought flowers.


Bring me a plant,

I asked – a forget-me-not

out of your garden.

He forgot


and came empty-handed,

sorry, blue-eyed.

I don't need flowers,

I said (lied).


He was always leaving.

Once he gave me his cold.

I cherished it, wishing

I had him to hold.


On balance, though

one thing was good:

he told me the truth.

I knew where I stood.


In my green courtyard

for hours, days, years

I stood where I knew,

waiting for flowers.


               - Helena Nelson


Not that it's loneliness


Not that it's loneliness was written during a year I spent in a damp farm cottage looking out to sea. It sat just above a string of little rocky beaches and exposed coastal path a few miles out of St Andrews on the East Coast of Scotland. I was studying for a Masters in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University there. My brother, Adam, two years younger than me, had died just before I moved there and, although it was a magical year of reading and writing with inspiring poets and tutors, it was a very sad time too and I hope this poem has that detached feeling of watching the world but not being part of it.

I wanted to describe a listless kind of loneliness, where time goes by slowly and anything can be stared at for minutes or hours, it doesn't matter which. But really, I hope this poem (which is really a series of linked haiku) speaks for itself.  


not that it's loneliness

just one black bird

in the blue-grey sky


not that it's loneliness

just standing in the garden

waiting for snow


not that it's loneliness

just the sound of a jet

behind everything


not that it's loneliness

just sitting on the wall

between clouds and sea


not that it's loneliness

just a hole in the door frame

where the mouse went


               - Chloe Morrish


Langsyne, when life was bonnie


[Alexander Anderson  (1845-1909) was born in Kirkconnel, a small town in southwestern Scotland.  As a teenager, he became a surfaceman, maintaining the roadbeds of the railway.  In his few leisure hours, he studied French, German, Italian and Spanish in order to read the great literary works of those languages.  He eventually obtained the post of Chief Librarian at the University of Edinburgh.]


Langsyne*, when life was bonnie,  (long ago)

   An' a' the skies were blue,

When ilka* thocht took blossom, (every thought)

   An' hung its heid* wi' dew, (head)

When winter wasna' winter,

   Though snaws cam' happin doon*, (covering down)

Langsyne, when life was bonnie,

   Spring gaed a twalmonth* roun'. (went a twelvemonth)


Langsyne, when life was bonnie,

   An' a' the days were lang;

When through them ran the music

   That comes to us in sang,

We never wearied liltin' * (singing sweetly)

   The auld love-laden tune;

Langsyne when life was bonnie,

   Love gaed a twalmonth roun'.


Langsyne, when life was bonnie,

   An' a' the warld* was fair, (world)

The leaves were green wi' simmer*, (summer)

   For autumn wasna there.

But listen hoo* they rustle, (how)

   Wi' an eerie, weary soun',

For noo*, alas, 'tis winter (now)

   That gangs* a twalmonth roun'. (goes)

          

               - Alexander Anderson


Driven Home


I was driving a friend and fellow-editor back home to Glasgow from Edinburgh, along the M8 motorway or freeway. The publishers we had just met in Edinburgh had been unimpressed by our idea for an anthology of contemporary 'Scots-Irish writing' by descendants of poor Irish migrants who had originally come to work in Scotland's coal, iron and engineering industries. Those descendants had, over the generations, become Scottish novelists, dramatists and poets. We talked over our disappointment as we drove.

After a while I noticed that my friend had fallen asleep. The motorway winds through the industrial landscape where my father's family lived and worked. In fact, my grandfather was killed in a mining accident in 1932, in a pit only a mile south of the speeding traffic. Now the road is landscaped with trees, but I remember how black and bleak it looked when I was young. The names of the villages in the poem evoke memories of that now vanished scene, and of those who labored there to make their children's future brighter than their own. What might they think now about what we have done with the life that they gave?     


I am the angel charged to take you home.

I have nothing to look forward to. You have.


You think you nodded off for forty winks:

big boy, you have been dozing for a hundred years.


And here we are on Purgatory's M8*            (motorway connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh)

blinking awake by floodlit Kirk o'Shotts*    (a church along the M8)


where rusted tv masts*and riding lights        (Kirk o'Shotts transmitting station is nearby)

pitch above Central Scotland's forest's waves.


Here's Holytown and Newhouse. Sing the one

about your father's many mansions. Hope it's true.


They're gathered at the door so see you in.

Loosen your seatbelt. There's our Maker – no,


that bloke with silver stubble on his chin

and five scenes from your famous childhood


tattooed on each forearm. On you go.


               - James McGonigal


Penelope, lyrics by Denise Lanctot, was drawn from a larger work about wandering. This particular segment focusses not on the travels of Ulysses, King of Ithaca, but on the imaginative inner journey of his ever-patient queen Penelope. Ulysses is away ten years fighting in Troy, and ten more traveling home. The suitors have given him up for dead and are pressuring Penelope for her hand (and his kingdom) in marriage. She holds them off by promising that when she finishes weaving a garment (originally a shroud for her father-in-law Laërtes) she will choose one of them. She weaves by day and undoes her work by night.


The Prologue begins as a twelve-note passacaglia, introducing the characters and their situation. The repeating bass line suggests both wandering and stasis, as it cyclically returns to the same place. The middle section introduces a Gretchen-like spinning motif.


In Penelope's Lament, she sings the blues. As the song progresses, she engages in a fraught dialogue with the suitors/herself about the state of her marriage. In the end we don't know if she's getting frank advice from the others or from herself.


The Weaving Song begins with a short recitative accompanied by the wandering bass line. As Penelope speaks of wandering, her melody leads her through several tonalities. Spinning sounds accompany her thoughts, and in two episodes, the piano picks up on the metaphor and weaves some intricate counterpoint.


Epithalamium, a wedding song, serves as a flashback to happier times, again, accompanied by the sound of the spinning wheel.


The Suitors have been occupying the house, waiting for Penelope to give in to their demands. The jagged rhythms and harmonies mirror the situation. The voice and piano come unglued at a certain point, depicting her desperate state of mind.


Finally, in Odyssey, over a luminous accompaniment, Penelope tells us of her inner life. The music cycles back through each song until we're left in expectation with the wandering motif from the beginning.


Penelope's Song comes as a surprise: perhaps for Penelope, the life of the mind is more rewarding than the reality of her marriage. It's a homecoming song in its way, yet the message is clear. Since so many songs of this nature are country songs, she sings to an easy, loping guitar accompaniment.


1. Prologue


From the wanderer's cup I drink

Me, Penelope

The ever patient wife.

Traveling in my mind

Outwitting place and time

Never far behind

The world's greatest wanderer

My husband,

Ulysses.

Appearances can deceive:

As I sit here and I weave

And unweave this coat.

As I sit here and I spin

Then unspin this golden thread.

They all think I'm mad.

“She's gone off her head!”

As you did when we parted

When I smiled at you and said:

Absence is a lack of imagination.

Come, dearest husband,

It's time for bed.



2. Penelope's Lament


Life is hell when you're gone!

Pious vultures circle and descend

Ladies in waiting

Betray and befriend.

Crones and crows

Wearing widow black

Gleefully sympathetic

Swoop round to attack.

Life is hell when you're gone!

I'm pecked to death with questions:

Where is Ulysses?

How is Ulysses?

Is he ever coming back?

Where is Ulysses?

How is Ulysses?

Did he send a single postcard:

“Wishing you were here?”

(Where is Ulysses?)

That no good hero husband!

(Where is Ulysses?)

Your bed is getting cold!

Your skin is getting dry!

Your suitors are fed up!

Yet you sit idly by!

We really didn't mean to upset you,

Did we upset you, Penny dear?

Let him go from your life

For he's taken to wife

A map, a sail, his favorite shoes.

Helen of Troy, not you, he pursues.


3. Weaving Song


Loneliness unravels

Distance disappears

When I weave this coat for you,

Ulysses.

I wander as I weave and weave

And weave and wander more

My journey, love, will never end

'Til you wander through my door.

Imagining this string

An endless silken strand

Cleaves my heart to yours

In some far and foreign land.

A road is like a thread

A filament of flight.

I'm a high-wire wanderer

On the edge of sheer delight.

Suddenly you awake

A sense that I am there:

A breath, a thread, a whisper,

A strand of golden hair.


4. Epithalamium


In my father's orchard

Beneath a lilac tree

Love unfurled

When you pulled my ribbon free.

My braid came undone

Buttons parted ways

The fire of your promises

Set my skin ablaze.

I drank your thirsty kisses

Full-bodied wine

Imagining with every sip

You'd be forever mine.

And when it was over

You whispered in my ear

“You are all my world

Whether far or near."


5. The Suitors


I can see from my balcony

The meddlers' tête-à- tête

Like a hive of angry hornets

In a furious minuet.

Their droning gossip

Stings the very air

Filling my ears

With venomous despair.

Penelope has come undone

Unspun like so much thread.

Her mind's an empty bobbin

Whirling in an empty head.

Where do you suppose she goes in her mind?


6. Odyssey


On the flap of a lapel

I fly.

Wind-swept coasts

Sighing hills

Deserts long abandoned by the sea.

Through a buttonhole I dive.

Sargasso green

Azure Aegean

Setting sail with half a sleeve.

My compass?

A thimble of stars

Stitched in a seamless sky.

I nap on a sun-baked rock.

Swim with dolphin and seal

Rip out a less-than-perfect seam.

Highjack a cloud.

(Navigate the Straits

Of Woe and Jealousy)

I slip into a pocket

An olive grove

Where we once kissed.

Snow begins to fall.

I quickly finish off a hem

The day's work done

Through the needle's eye

In a field of stones

A young girl sings a song of me

For you:


7. Penelope's Song


Don't hurry home, love

Don't hurry home.

I'm not finished

Spinning and unspinning

Wings of spun gold, love

Stories never told, love

Don't hurry home, love

Don't hurry home.

While you're away

I invent and re-invent

The world.

Don't hurry home, love

Don't hurry home.

I'm not finished

Spinning and unspinning

Steeds of pure light, love

Riding through the night, love

Don't hurry home, love

Don't hurry home.

Depart to alight

And alight to depart

I'm in love with beginnings.

Landing and leaving

Weaving unweaving

This nomad's heart

Needs to start

Love's journey again.

Don't hurry home, love.

Don't hurry home.

While you're away

I travel to the earth's

Endless end.



I stop writing the poem is taken from Moon Crossing Bridge, a volume of poetry written as meditation and remembrance the death of her husband, the writer Raymond Carver. The converging lines of the accompaniment suggests the act of folding a shirt, arms crossing in an empty embrace.


I stop writing the poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives or who dies, I'm still a woman.

I'll always have plenty to do.

I bring the arms of his shirt

together. Nothing can stop

our tenderness. I'll get back

to the poem. I'll get back to being

a woman. But for now,

there's a shirt, a giant shirt

in my hands, and somewhere a small girl standing next to her mother

watching to see how it's done.


                    - Tess Gallagher



Lament is modeled of what was known as the pathetic ballad in the 19th century, such as Gussie L. Davis' 1896 In the Baggage Coach Ahead. Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem is given a mournful ragtime setting.


Listen, children:

Your father is dead.

From his old coats

I'll make you little jackets;

I'll make you little trousers

From his old pants.

There'll be in his pockets

Things he used to put there,

Keys and pennies

Covered with tobacco;

Dan shall have the pennies

To save in his bank;

Anne shall have the keys

To make a pretty noise with.

Life must go on,

Though good men die;

Anne, eat your breakfast;

Dan, take your medicine;

Life must go on;

I forget just why.


                    - Edna St. Vincent Millay


Set to a much breezier ragtime, Recuerdo, also by Edna Millay, recounts a care-free all-nighter on the Staten Island ferry. The music winds down as the night wears on. It is the middle song of a set of three, premiered by William Sharp and Steven Blier at Carnegie Hall.


We were very tired, we were very merry -

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable -

But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,

We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; And

The whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.


We were very tired, we were very merry -

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;

[And] you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,

From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;

And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,

And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.


We were very tired, we were very merry -

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

We hailed “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,

And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;

And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,

And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

                          

                       - Edna St. Vincent Millay


River Songs, on poetry from the Pawnee tribe, William Stafford, and Walt Whitman, was written for cellist Yehuda Hanani's Close Encounters with Music series.  The motivation behind his commissioning of this piece was a movement to halt the building of the St. Lawrence Cement plant on the banks of the Hudson River.  Rather than writing a protest piece, it was decided that a work celebrating rivers would ultimately have broader appeal.  The second song, Ask Me, references Schubert's Auf dem Flusse, also a poem about what might be going on under the ice.  River Songs was premiered in Great Barrington Massachusetts in 2003 by baritone William Sharp and Yehuda Hanani with the composer at the piano.


Song to the Trees and Streams


Dark against the sky yonder distant line

Lies before us.  Trees we see, long the line of trees,

Bending, swaying in the breeze.


Bright with flashing light yonder distant line

Runs before us, swiftly runs, swift the river runs,

Winding, flowing, flowing o'er the land.


Hark, a sound, yonder distant sound

Comes to greet us, singing comes, soft the river's song,

Rippling gently beneath the trees.


                    - Pawnee

Ask Me


Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.


I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.


                    - William Stafford


Quo Vadis


Sometimes I choose a cloud and let it

cross the sky floating me away.

Or a bird unravels its song and carries me

as it flies deeper and deeper into the woods.


Is there a way to be gone and still

belong? Travel that takes you home?


Is that life? – to stand by a river and go.


                    - William Stafford


Crossing Brooklyn Ferry


Ah, what can be more stately than mast-hemmed Manhattan?

River and sunset and scallop-edg'd waves of floodtide?

Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! Drench with your splendor me!

Stand up, tall masts of Manahatta! Stand up! Beautiful hills of Brooklyn!

Flow on, river! Flow with the flood tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!

Fly on, sea birds! Fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air!

Receive the summer sky, you water,

and faithfully hold it till all downcast eyes have time to take it from you!

We fathom you not – we love you. You furnish your parts toward eternity,

Great and small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.


                    - Walt Whitman


Take Hands is taken from The Book of Uncommon Prayer, a vocal chamber work for four singers and piano. The song was premiered here at SongFest and is dedicated to Rosemary Hyler Ritter.


Take hands.

There is no love now.

But there are hands.

There is no joining now,

But a joining has been

Of the fastening of fingers

And their opening.

More than the clasp even, the kiss

Speaks loneliness,

How we dwell apart,

And how love triumphs in this.


                      - Laura Riding Jackson



Back to HOME