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Aubade in Autumn

October 31, 2014

The end of October in Ohio brings dark skies and quiet mornings. The last of the cicadas have died. Geese sometimes fly over, a chorus of honking that makes the silence afterwards more noticeable. More and more often I have to close the windows and the only sound is the furnace.

Both Eleanor and Walker have gone back to college after their October breaks. The house is quiet. The deaf cat stalks around for a few minutes, howling to see where I’ve gone, and then finds me and curls up to sleep beside my desk. I am listening to the music in my head, the Mendelssohn we’ve been playing at symphony rehearsal.

I’m thinking about an aubade and find one new to me, Peter Everwine’s “Aubade in Autumn.” It makes me aware of what I’m listening for, alone in a quiet house.

My grandmother used to hum the hymn “Rock of ages, cleft for me” as she made her way through the house each morning, from her double bed spread with chenille, to the bathroom sink, through the pine-panelled room with bookshelves and sofa, and into the sunny, white-curtained kitchen.

My mother always knows at least one more verse of a song than anyone else. Years ago, when we were sitting in her yard after dark on the fourth of July, singing every patriotric song we could think of, she led my father through more verses of “Remember Pearl Harbor” than anyone else knew existed.

My father sang “Ain’t She Sweet” when he was happy, the chorus of “Bali Ha’i” when he vacuumed, and “Blue Skies” when he was hoping for good weather (inside and out).

My brother and I gleefully sang the disco cookie song from Sesame Street Fever over and over throughout our childhood.

Ron and I sang about 50 verses of “Froggie went A Courtin’” to Eleanor and Walker when they were babies.

Walker sang “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin and Eleanor sang “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent when they were practicing for auditions for high school musicals. (Walker sings even more beautifully now, but his baritone isn’t suited to “Corner of the Sky” the way his voice was before it began to change.)

Those are the songs I’m listening for.

Aubade in Autumn

This morning, from under the floorboards
of the room in which I write,
Lawrence the handyman is singing the blues
in a soft falsetto as he works, the words
unclear, though surely one of them is love
lugging its shadow of sadness into song.
I don’t want to think about sadness;
there’s never a lack of it.
I want to sit quietly for a while
and listen to my father making
a joyful sound unto his mirror
as he shaves—slap of razor
against the strop, the familiar rasp of his voice
singing his favorite hymn, but faint now,
coming from so far back in time:
Oh come to the church in the wildwood…
my father, who had no faith, but loved
how the long ascending syllable of wild
echoed from the walls in celebration
as the morning opened around him…
as now it opens around me, the light shifting
in the leaf-fall of the pear tree and across
the bedraggled back-yard roses
that I have been careless of
but brighten the air, nevertheless.
Who am I, if not one who listens
for words to stir from the silences they keep?
Love is the ground note; we cannot do
without it or the sorrow of its changes.
Come to the wildwood, love,
Oh to the wiiildwood, as the morning deepens,
and from a branch in the cedar tree a small bird
quickens his song into the blue reaches of heaven—
hey sweetie sweetie hey.

When I was at Hendrix College, we used to clap when a flock of grackles passed overhead, for fear of bird poop on the head and the fun of watching them disperse for a moment. I think of the whimsy of that, applauding for birds, at the end of the aubade, in the silence.

What songs are you listening for?

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2014 12:15 pm

    I miss the cicadas.

  2. October 31, 2014 12:27 pm

    I like this, and am reminded that my own grandfather was partial to “Oh, what a beautiful morning.”

    • November 2, 2014 3:38 pm

      Oh yes, that’s a morning song. Another is from the Mary Poppins movie, “Ain’t it a glorious day, right like a morning in May…”

  3. October 31, 2014 5:35 pm

    I always have a sound track in my head—I started doing this years ago while living in Germany. There are specific songs I hum in the morning while getting ready and others that appear later in the day.

    I also revise lyrics and sing them to my cats (I’m bringin’ sexy back—meow! You other kitties don’t know where it’s at—meow! Better watch your nip or I’ll attack—I’m bringin’ sexy back). I used to do the same thing with my kids (and the one kid who has kids does it now to his own children, I’m so proud).

    • November 2, 2014 3:44 pm

      There’s something about singing to cats, isn’t there? I have songs I sing to them for various occasions. When I’m opening a can of tuna and about to give them the water, I sing “I’m making tuna, tuna, out of a can” which is sung to the tune of “On top of spaghetti.” At Christmastime, I sing “Silver and Gold” with a line about “destruction around my Christmas tree.” And, of course, when Sabrina won’t come in right away, she gets a chorus of her name sung to the tune of “Maria” from West Side Story.

  4. November 2, 2014 7:29 am

    Lovely post and poem! I sing a lot around the house, but mainly random snatches of lyrics; I almost never know an entire song. Especially annoying to my husband are the Christmas songs that stay in my head all year. Soon, I’ll be back in season!

    • November 2, 2014 3:47 pm

      My dad and I used to always sing the few lyrics we knew and then sing syllables or play the trombone with our lips, because neither of us ever knew all the lyrics.
      I am also a bit of a stickler about Christmas songs, partly because if I hear them, they’ll be in my head again, and I don’t want them in there crowding out other songs all year long!

  5. November 3, 2014 9:34 am

    I didn’t know the word aubade until just now! What a good word to have. In the olden days, I used to get up early early to practice my piano (I know, how lucky for everyone else in my family), so I always think of morning as a time to do scales. Brain’s no good for anything complicated that early, but anyone can manage scales.

    • November 3, 2014 9:55 am

      And scales are a kind of stretching–your hands go up and down, and if you sing along, your voice is discovering its morning range, and anyone’s thoughts, rousing from sleep to the up and down of the scales, settle into a pattern of out and back, near and far.

  6. November 4, 2014 2:55 pm

    These days the sound of bees and birds and cicadas and crickets have been replaced by the wind and the crunch of dry leaves. A few more weeks and I will be listening for the sounds of snow.

    • November 4, 2014 3:13 pm

      Yes. I take most of my wind chimes inside when snow starts to fall. The summer ones are already in, but there are a few I leave out there for fall, especially now that I know they’re not bothering the bunny on windy days.

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