[“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.
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
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
And I give thanks also for my mind, that thought of giving
And mostly I’m grateful that I take this world so seriously.