“But when you can’t walk away?”
(Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, Act II)
You sing your father sitting up in bed another morning the same, staring at your mother to ask again, “And who are you?” Your mother unable now to laugh, pulling the quilt up to her eyes.
You sing the voice no longer a language translatable as words a parent once sang to you falling asleep, Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, what you wish you could do, could touch your child’s locked face, hug him without his screeching, “No!” his fingers closing into a fist.
Each morning you lay out your daughter’s outfit on the carpet–the song of panties to velcro shoes, and wait in the hall, praying you have not confused this day, its lyrics, the required items of clothing in order.
“Please, God . . . ” you whisper, buckling up, backing into the street, joining the flow of plague-ward nurses and physicians recognizable only as hallucinations in gender-less garb sterilized white, deep-sea creatures, respirator-gills filtering contagion filling the lungs of compromised patients lined up for portable morgues.
And what is the song of public school teachers, their classrooms of anonymous masks, their own muffling the meter of Reading, Riting, Rithmatic, their daily pledge, allegiance to showing up, no apple waiting on their desk?
What song of wives and husbands for better or worse, spooning oatmeal into their spouse’s mouth, lifting this new person from wheelchair to toilet, lining up color-coded pills on the kitchen counter, blinds open to let in what light may come?
Caregivers’ song louder than the voices calling to loved ones from the radio, television, internet, messages compelling harm to themselves, to the caregivers, their song’s crescendo blasting the voices back to their cyberspace hell.
And what song of the Salvation Army bellringer, the jingling toll of her bell singing your hand into your pocket, loose change slipped through the slot in her red kettle, “God Bless,” the north wind biting her fingers, predicted snow flurries circling?
Song of the midnight to 2:00 a.m. angel of daily requests emailed to prayer warriors, their sustaining thankfulness for the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, all who mourn and rejoice, both giving and receiving comfort.
Songs of the Food Bank delivery truck gearing down. The supermarket cashier in the fifteen-items-or-less fast-checkout line, who does not count your items, wishes you a good day. The drug addict, alcoholic, lying down to sleep, checking off another day clean, their prayer for the long night–the Lord, their soul to keep. Psalm of shepherding ministers watching over their flock.
Song of 6:00 a.m. City Light Community Ministries. Kitchen song of utensils–knife chopchopchop of celery, potatoes, carrots for the soup’s song bubbling on the grill, splush splush of the long-handled potato masher, carillon song of pots and pans and ladles chiming from the rack suspended above the city of light-bringers bumping their heads on the instruments of joyful noise summoning this day’s light dissipating the darkness.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food;
I was thirsty and you gave me drink;
I was a stranger and you made me welcome;
naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me,
in prison and you came to see me.”
(Matthew 25: 35-37, The Jerusalem Bible)
*after Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself