I Ask My Mother to Sing

March 25, 2020

I Ask My Mother to Sing

By Li-Young Lee -

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.

Mother and daughter sing like young girls.

If my father were alive, he would play

his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,

nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch

the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers

running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;

how the waterlilies fill with rain until

they overturn, spilling water into water,

then rock back, and fill with more.

Both women have begun to cry.

But neither stops her song.

This poem captured so much of what I needed today. It made me think about my mom (she's safely tucked in a valley in western North Carolina instead of her apartment in New York City these days). How music and singing soothe us both. It made me think about the sanctuary kitchens offer us right now; my own is home to new inventions, like adding fish sauce to my stir-fry and indulging the sticky rice with a thick lump of Vermont butter (my new version of Asian Fusion). This poem reminded me of the wordless adult tears we cry these days in each other's company, because we know but can't say how bad things are. It made me think about how looking out at nature (and dreaming of having time to immerse myself in it), and being home with my little family, and memories are what's getting me through.

This poem also reminds me of the Center School, where we write, read, and perform poetry often. And it helps me see the poetry in our new version of ourselves where daily, gorgeous phrases in the form of video lessons, stanzas in the form of lists made by teachers for willing students, and rhythms in the form of Zoom read-alouds are newly composed.

I am thankful for poetry, and for the beauty it can make out of pain, worry, and making-do.

Sending you all health and love,


Charlie Spencer

Head of School

PS Yes. I know Gov Baker changed the school return date to the beginning of May. I am bereft. The staff, administration, and board of directors are in constant conversation about how to be responsive to you during such a lengthy hiatus. I am grateful for the work the teachers are doing to ground your kids and give parents some respite. Please keep in touch with questions and comments. We are here to help.

Charlie Spencer, Head of School
Contact Charlie: Email
Phone: 413-773-1700
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