“A Thousand Tongues Can Never Tell”


[“A Thousand Tongues Can Never Tell,” a spirit root sculpture by Bessie Harvey]

Mother’s Day, I woke up to a mockingbird practicing a song unlike anything I’d ever heard before from a mockingbird. Sleepily I remembered a Mary Oliver poem.* Sleepily I wondered if I might be hearing the theme song from “the Rockford Files.” (Especially that doodle-doodle-dee-dah-do-do bit at the end of the first phrase?) But then, more awake, I realized I needed to get a grip. “Unlike Mary Oliver, you do not know what music that bird’s been listening to!” I scolded myself. “You do not know all the songs, human and bird, to identify what you’re hearing! Only that bird knows. All you can do is to appreciate that lively, inventive music.” So I did.

Later that bright, sunny morning, wearing a “Black Live Matter” sticker on my Mothers Out Front tee shirt,  I joined thousands of people in Boston for the 19th annual Mother’s Day Walk for Peace. Although I was walking with other Mothers Out Front folks, the groupings and clusters of people and baby carriages and dogs snaking our way through the streets of Dorchester were pretty fluid—so at one point along the 5K route I walked beside a young African-American woman I’d never met before.

“What brings you here today?” I asked her after we’d chitchatted about the gorgeous day and how the crowd seemed bigger than ever. (An estimated 10,000 marchers participated this year.)

“I have a son,” she said. “And I want him to grow up safe.”

Such simple words! But a thousand tongues cannot tell all that her stark statement encapsulates, all the stories of all the mothers and all the sons in Dorchester, in Baltimore, in Ferguson; every place and every time since time immemorial. Like that sleepy moment earlier that morning, I was humbled by all I will never know.

“I want your son to be safe, too,” I replied. Because that was all I could say.

                                   *The Gift

I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song.
Every day he sang from the rim of the field, while I picked
blueberries or just idled in the sun.
Every day he came fluttering by to show me, and why not,
the white blossoms in this wings.
So one day I went there with a machine, and played some songs of
The mockingbird stopped singing, he came close and seemed
to listen.
Now when I go down to the field, a little Mahler spills
through the sputters of his song.
How happy I am, lounging in the light, listening as the music
floats by!
And I give thanks also for my mind, that thought of giving
a gift.
And mostly I’m grateful that I take this world so seriously.
Mary Oliver



Join the Conversation


  1. Dear Patricia,

    Hi, there, Patricia, my so, so very dearly special and precious white sisterfriend who you are For Always so, so very much! I love this so! This is a wonderful and a beautifully crafted and composed blog post article, sister! Patricia, I think you may be right with your first guess as to what the lovely mockingbird was singing! Perhaps it WAS very much indeed singing the theme to that cool and smooth 1970s show the Rockford Files (SMILE!!!!!!!) You just never know-it might just be so, sister (SMILE!!!!!!)

    Patricia, I am just so very thrilled and overjoyed at such the huge turn out for this event and march with 10,000 people!!!!!!! Wow, sister, this is just absolutely the greatest and the best, my friend!!!!!! I am so pleased that you had that great and heart-opening talk with the African-American woman there to advocate for her child!!!!!! Sister, you and this mean the world to me and so much to me that you are our white anti-racist ally and advocate in your grand and empowering activism and allyship in solidarity, and how you have such sensitive love and concern for us and for black and other children of color!!!!!!! I feel so supported, validated, acknowledged, and recognized by you For Always, sister, as I know that the African-American woman and mother who you spoke with must have also felt towards you as well, my friend!!!!!! Thank-you so, so much For Always, sister!!!!!!!

    The poem you featured and contributed with this magnificently insightful and inspirational blog post article complements this superbly super blog post article to the very heights of perfection, sisterfriend!!!!!! Patricia, I just so love this cool and serene poem!!!!!! I have so enjoyed this astounding blog post article of yours, Patricia, and I feel encouraged and uplifted in my Wednesday to have the very best day I can from feeling very inspired by your very fine and excellent, soothing words here, my friend!!!!!!

    Patricia, please have a wondrously wonderful Wednesday, and may all of your days be so, so very especially blessed, my precious white friend and sister!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my precious white sister, Patricia, with Peace and Love To You For Always, my dearest white friend, and Blessings and Even More Blessings To You For Always,

    Your Christian lesbian black sisterfriend For Always in solidarity, Sherry Gordon

  2. You may not know all the songs, or all the poems, but it’s a gift that you know a heck of a lot of both, and you give the gifts like Mary Oliver’s.

  3. Thank you for this photograph. I am writing a paper on this piece and I’m glad you took a photograph of this art piece so that I could look at it from that angle. Anyway as someone who unfortunately procrastinates a lot, I started looking at your website and I am grateful to read about all your thoughts and I might pick up one of your books after school. thank you!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.