Monday, May 2, 2011

Mother's “Hallelujah Violin”

by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

A Mother’s Day Offering
I am losing my mother in little flakes of peeling off memories. Sometimes, during our Sunday morning phone conversations, she tells me she wakes up and doesn’t know where she is. Sometimes she doesn’t know who she is.

My mother is in Chicago, in a beautiful retirement community by the lake. I am in Northern California. She forgets this. She also forgets where my children and grandchildren live. “You’re so lucky!” she exclaims, each time we have this conversation, “They’re all near you! You can see them whenever you like.” I get her meaning. It’s not easy for her that I’m so far away. It’s not easy for me.

My mother is a fine musician—a violinist and violist. She still plays chamber music regularly. “What did you play?” I wonder. “Oh, I can’t remember” she says. “But it was fun.”

I remember, just a few years ago, when my mother was in her eighties, she’d tell me proudly about her Christmas time ”gigs,” playing Handel’s Messiah in Black churches all over Chicago. I wrote a poem about how our family identified with African-American culture, “Your People Are My People.” My mother and her “Hallelujah violin” make an appearance in the poem, which was recently published in New Millennium Writings.

So mother, here’s my poem as a Mother’s Day offering to you, who have taught me so much about aging with grace and with passion for what you love. It’s dedicated to Al Young, whose poetry inspired my poem.

for Al Young

My people are the people of the pianoforte and the violin
Mozart people Bach people Hallelujah people
my people are the Requiem people Winterreise people Messiah people
who crossed the red sea Pharoah’s dogs at our heels

Your people are the drum beat people the field holler people the conjure people
Blues people Jubilee people people who talk straight to God
Your people are the Old Man River people the Drinking Gourd people
singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land

My family had a Sabbath ritual
We lit the candles sang Go Down Moses sang Swing Low Sweet Chariot
sang slave music freedom music secret signals in the night music
my father said you never know
when Pharoah will be back

i was young
i was American i thought
my people were the Beatles the Lovin’ Spoonful the Jefferson Airplane
singing Alice and her White Rabbit through all
those changes my parents did not understand

That didn’t last
That was leaving home music magic mushroom music
Puff the Dragon music floating off to Never Never land
now heard in elevators in the pyramids of finance

but Old Man River still rolls through my fields
Bessie Smith still sweetens my bowl
Ma Rainey appears in the inner sanctum
of the CG Jung Institute flaunting her deep black bottom

My father’s long gone over Jordan
and I’d hate for him to see
how right he was about Pharoah

but I want you to know Al

every Christmas
in black churches all over Chicago
the Messiah shows up
accompanied by my mother’s
Hallelujah violin

(Published in New Millennium Writings)

You can learn more about my mother’s life, and about the power of the mother archetype in all our lives, in my book: The Motherline: Every Woman’s Journey to Find Her Female Roots. By the way, it makes a great Mother’s Day gift.
My mother and her “Hallelujah violin.”
Photo by Joan David, 2007
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