On Moments Past and Present

I was in the middle of rehearsing a new piece with a soprano colleague yesterday for a CD project on the music of composer Lori Laitman. The text of the song was from a poem by Joyce Sutphen, Poet Laureate of Minnesota, Burning the Woods of my Childhood, and as I played and listened to my colleague’s beautiful voice singing the haunting words, tears sprang to my eyes.

This is rare for me, as I am usually so focused on what I’m doing playing-wise that my emotional wall stays up. This time was different, though, as the fourth anniversary of my mother’s passing is next week, and the words Kristine sang took me right to my still-deep well of grief. It was both beautiful and painful as I felt the longing for my mother and the deep chasm of death. So final, so heart wrenching.

Music has that power to transport us in an instant to a memory, a place in our heart sometimes long-forgotten. That, mixed with the anchor of that Friday morning in St. Vincent’s Hospital- my brother’s birthday, no less- when my mother left me, brought my grief from its hiding place.

I no longer dread these moments of pain; they are gifts of remembrance, even as the tears run down my face and my heart contracts as memories flood my mind. It is all a reminder of great love and devotion, of sacrifice and beauty- moments I never want to forget. I will play this music that pierces my heart for my mother, will sing my grief out through my instrument, a message so strong that it will cross the divide and be delivered to my waiting angel. I feel it, I know it.

I am burning the woods of my childhood, tree by tree,

        I am warming myself by the fire of those days.

        I am remembering faces I can no longer see.

        And the places I loved that are gone from me

        And the roads and the paths and the open ways,

        I am burning the woods of my childhood, tree by tree.

        Where the elm trees stood, where the fox ran free,

        And we listened to the owl and the screeching jays,

        I am remembering the faces I can no longer see.

        For those who walked under the pines with me,

        Who cannot join me at the fire as I sit and gaze,

        I am burning the woods of my childhood, tree by tree.

        Thinking old dreams that can no longer be

        Watching them fall into ashes, the reds into grays

        I am remembering the faces I no longer can see.

        While the fire goes low and night is around me,

        The memory of that time rises up from the haze.

        I am burning the woods of my childhood, tree by tree,

        I am remembering the faces I no longer can see.

— “Burning the Woods of My Childhood” by Joyce Sutphen


8 thoughts on “On Moments Past and Present

  1. I love this poem/lyrics. It captures all the joy and sadness in one scoop. I can see why it touched you in a deep and profound way. I also like the attitude toward remembering the losses in your life – a positive side of the negative.

  2. That was a beautifully written post. I, as well, can identify with that poem. As I continue to accrue more and more years on this Earth, in this existence, I find myself more and more having snippets of memories from my childhood, my teen years, my young adulthood, and memories from all stages of Life. Bittersweet, they are…sometimes bringing a smile, a chuckle, usually always a tear, and sometimes full out sobbing. The music of the clarinet, skillfully played, as you do so well, lends itself to all those emotions and reactions. We are lucky that you are recording this music to be experienced by so many of us…taking us down those paths through the words, the voice, and through your beautifully played, truly heartfelt music. Thank you for sharing and writing about your very personal experience, and thank you for sharing your music. ❤️

  3. Beautiful poem! Grief is such a softener. I thought of Dickens, reading this , and his insistence that the best experience of grief, softening memory, keeps us evergreen.

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