Songs last the longest…

by Moya Cannon

(for Susan Hiller)

my mother, who could not sing, told me.

As a young woman, she helped garner

the last grains of Tyrone Irish.

A teetotaller, her job

was to carry the whiskey bottle

which uncorked memory—

the old people remembered scraps of songs

when they remembered nothing else.

And today I heard a recorded lullaby

sung by a woman long dead

in Kulkhassi, a language also dead.

No one understands the words

or knows what the singer might have sung

to an infant who may be a grandparent today

walking, haltingly, in the shade,

down a street in South Africa.

Did she sing about stars, or rain,

or tall grass, or blue flowers,

or small boats on a quick, brown river

or antelopes in a mountain valley

or a dark spirit who might snatch away

a little child.

Whatever promises or prayers

the song’s words held

in that forever lost language

the mystery remains

that any infant on this hurried earth

could still understand the lullaby’s intent.

Through its rhythms and syllables

love pours still

like milk

through a round sieve.