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For Mom

When I was four or five my mom taught me to sing
“Nothing would be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.”
and “You are my sunshine my only sunshine.”

I can picture us in our little house on West Fourth Street,
mom and me in the kitchen,  
her cooking and teaching me to harmonize.
(I suppose it would have been more practical
if she’d been teaching me how to cook,
but who needs practicality when you can sing--
when you can sing?)

Mom would tell me to stay with the melody,
while she sang the harmony part.
And then she’d say “now it’s your turn.”
Singing a third above or a third below the melody was easy enough.
It sounded right.
(Not that either of us talked about thirds.
This was about sound--about instinct--about the gift
of being able to hear what had always been there.)

It was like riding a bike.
As soon as I did it once or twice
It was easy as cake.

By the time I was six I was teaching the occasional
willing classmate how to harmonize
(or at least how to stay on the melody while I harmonized).
I was standing in the congregation every Sunday singing second soprano,
my young voice snuggled securely between
Grandma Martha’s alto and mom’s soprano.

Few things in this life have come so easily, but even this thing,
even this easy thing
needed someone to prime the pump.

So this is for my mom, for Patricia Jane,
who taught me how to hear, how to listen, how to sing.


  1. Such beautiful memories! Grandma taught me to harmonize. I remember sitting on that second row in church with voices lifted in song. Music was such wonderful a part of our lives!


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