A Poem for Mom, Set to Her Favorite Opera

Dolores Kendrick's mother Josephine loved music — she taught music part-time and even co-wrote a hit song in the 1940s for jazz crooner Billy Eckstine. Kendrick wrote a poem to celebrate her late mother through the one opera she loved most.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

Ms. DOLORES KENDRICK (Poet Laureate, Washington, DC): My name is Dolores Kendrick. I am poet laureate of Washington, DC. And NEWS & NOTES has asked me to read this poem for mothers. The title is "Intermezzo: My Mother Listens To Cavalleria Rusticana."

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Dolores Kendrick's mother Josephine loved music. She taught music part-time and even co-wrote a hit song in the 1940s for jazz crooner Billy Eckstine. She died in 1975. Dolores Kendrick wrote a poem to celebrate her mother through the opera she loved most.

Ms. KENDRICK: `"Intermezzo: My Mother Listens To Cavalleria Rusticana." In my mother were operas and poems and sweet ballads, floating upon jazz tempos, and she brought me out of her body with the number seven wrapped around our umbilical cord, a reminder of the surgical severance that never cut clean enough for the navel to reach the ends of the earth she lived in, seeded and silenced. Such music embraced her for being so perfect that the comings and goings of pain and unquestioned entities of the spirit merely caused her to comfort those around her who needed to be in her skin, and give me air to search and breathe my own seeding beyond what I knew or wanted or didn't want or had forgotten.

`The days went and came like scant November leaves dangling upon backyard juniper trees, songs of sweet a cappellas and burnt umber flowing to the wealth of arias settling within her managed sight and strained pieces of memory. For she knew how to sift the comfortable from the catastrophic, as she knew the patient sound of solos put into her mourning breast. Days on end, she ran her fingers over the keys of the piano as if in the murmurs of music there was some long lost love harboring in a body of adagios too sweet to undo. And there were things to know, why swans sing before they die, how crabs prevent themselves from crawling out of a suffocating barrel, where the last firefly went, what old Josiah said before he died, why Grandma Lee was an alcoholic, all the lessons learned and forgotten in the spill of an autumn moon or the scream of a star.

`It was, for me, to remember the "Cavalleria Rusticana," as if that opera were the language of women born of men, who conceived them after the rib was broken and music took over the world and the histories of smiles and soft ablutions.

`At her dying, she taught me to transpose the deep dust of darkness into unsuspected light, and where to pull the key from the original octave and take it higher, somewhere else into the languishing intermezzo, pulling joyfully at the heart and the edge of the sun's sleep.'

CHIDEYA: That was Dolores Kendrick. Her books of poetry include "The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women."

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.