I want to write a song about the Midwest I left,
though I’ve no idea how to sing. And still I’ll try
my voice as it cracks and wavers – slightly bent
beneath the note it wants to meet – and passes by.
Not at all like my sister’s voice, which I remember
rising through the air of the house we grew up in.
High and strong – and fierce and free and tempered –
like silver feathers shimmering in the wind.
The wind that was sweet and cold in the spring,
and followed us as we climbed gnarled trees
with my brother. And my sister, she would sing
sweetly with nonsense words to fit the breeze.
My brother taught himself guitar by listening.
Neck bent over his instrument, head turned,
long fingers spread across each fret and string –
gentle and quick and serious as he learned.
Self-taught and still determined, like my grandma’s
songs. Those old Irish tunes I forgot or never knew,
as soft and sincere as her son, my father, was.
And both so beautiful and brave and vulnerable too.
Like my friend whose fingers flew over piano keys,
as she held herself straight and frowned with a nod.
I used to watch as her hands fluttered over the ivory,
and I’d tell her it was perfect when she frowned that it was not.
Imperfectly the memories find me now.
Muffled by too many yesterdays,
too many tomorrows to allow
each song to find me as they did those days.
In the mornings my mother used to sing.
Time to get up, you know – another day.
Each morning I’ll sing you a sweet nothing,
right here with you to chase the nightmares away.
My mother used to sing to us, she used to spin
through our darkened bedrooms as we woke.
Leaping through our hazy dawn with a grin
that refused the protests her song provoked.
Time to get up, you know – one foot and the next.
Here I am with you, right here with you, baby mine.
All you can do is keep trying your very best.
One foot now as together we step forward in time.
And forward we went, and forward we go.
Time splits us apart like those old tree branches,
sends away from the song and the strings and the piano:
each of us rising to different heights and chances.
Down through each successive day we walked along,
days sometimes gentle and sometimes all too sharp,
filled with sorrow and shadow and delight and dawn,
pulling us together and sending us so very far.
And my parents call me on the phone, send emails.
One foot and then the next – it’s another day.
Time to get up, and the past is a soft fairytale
that sings to me and haunts in some riddling way.
Quietly the memories find me every morning,
and find me every night, and they keep –
keep me company, and softly they sing.
They wake me and they send me to sleep.