Faith Shearin: “Music at My Mother’s Funeral”

faithshearin
Music at My Mother’s Funeral

During the weeks when we all believed my mother
was likely to die she began to plan
her funeral and she wanted us, her children,
to consider the music we would play there. We remembered
the soundtrack of my mother’s life: the years when she swept
the floors to the tunes of an eight track cassette called Feelings,
the Christmas when she bought a Bing Crosby album
about a Bright Hawaiian Christmas Day. She got Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring stuck in the tape deck of her car and for months
each errand was accompanied by some kind
of dramatic movement. After my brother was born,
there was a period during which she wore a muumuu
and devoted herself to King Sunny Ade and his
African beats. She ironed and wept to Evita, painted
to Italian opera. Then, older and heavier, she refused
to fasten her seatbelt and there was the music
of an automated bell going off every few minutes,
which annoyed the rest of us but did not seem to matter
to my mother who ignored its relentless disapproval,
its insistence that someone was unsafe.
Poem copyright ©2013 by the Alaska Quarterly Review.

I really like Faith Shearin’s works and I want to point them out as a retort to those who believe that modern poetry is not longer poetry because it lacks metre and rhyme.   What this poem manages to do is tell a story that sweeps up the reader into knowing much more about the mother than a more general remembrance would give us.

Shearin is specific and sincere.  I think I like that about some contemporary poets:  they paint a very specific picture and invite us to relate to it.   Without the self-conscious nodding and winking irony (that’s you, Billy Collins) or the sometimes very amorphous nature-worship (I look at your, Mary Oliver) we have a mother who has gone through various musical phases as she has grown older.
The segue between Evita and Italian opera and the music of the protesting car jolts us with the knowledge (which we already have) that this is the way the world ends for this mother.
The poem invites me to reflect upon the soundtrack of my mother’s life:  Frank Sinatra to Broadway musicals to blaring out Carmen to Beethoven to raptures over Franz Schubert and finally to deeply cherishing Vaughan-Williams, Faure, and Delius.  She went off to do a “Delius and Thomas Hardy” tour of England–old, widowed, but my God—she was really so young!

And for her 70th birthday celebration she wanted nothing more than to have her five remaining children sitting on a sofa watching her “conduct” the Ring Cycle.  That did not last long as you might imagine.   She beamed with pride and pleasure as she conducted the very slow, gradual start of Das Rheingold.  If her children would not pay attention to her very much, she could use her birthday to express herself without the dangerous medium of words.

And finally the final soundtrack—the beeps and blips of a hospital room, the urgent calls over the loudspeaker for Code Blue Stat and the general cacophony which is the music that accompanies most of our deaths.
Faith Shearin makes me partake most lovingly in memory.  Her poems invite us to share her point of view and her vision about many things.   They wander in the vast fields of “memory and desire” where I spend much of my life today.