Whence Come these Lullabies
I once composed lullabies.
I suppose they began when my three-month-old baby, my first child, spiked a 103◦ fever, and I was frightened and he was sick and miserable and frightened. And I cradled him and rocked him for hours in my aching arms gently and rhythmically as I breathed and whispered unconnected assuring words that began to connect and to coalesce with the rocking rhythm and began to hiss forth with sympathy and hope and desperation: you’re so tiny little baby . . . snugglin’ and sucklin’ . . . now it’s time to go to sleep . . . Mom and Dad will care for you . . . The first note to sally forth was a middle C searching upward to find the octave then trickling back down to the point of beginning and swinging lightly around on the scale until the notes and the words found each other and became a line of a song, a first primal song that would grow and become always his song. That was thirty years ago, and now he cradles and rocks his own sick child with her song peaking timidly and bravely out from behind that gossamer veil, stepping into melodious light, as her daddy let go his stoicism born of fear and of the need to appear strong and capable and wise, which he already was. And he sang to her that song that became her song.
Ten years later I laid on a little boy’s bed, as was my nightly norm, to help him wind down and grow sleepy, his head nestled next to mine, the other children in other nearby beds, and it was uncertain who would fall asleep first in that warm dark at day’s end. But that one night he looked out the window and at the glowing creamy disk and cooed Daddy, sing me a song about the moon. And so it began, with the word Moonlight, again on that steadfast middle C swinging up a fifth and meandering in minor with hints of God and Heaven and Angels looking down on the child who had asked for the song and who shone with his own pure light. That little lullaby became his favorite and the favorite of all the children who asked me to sing it to them at night for a generous number of years, and when I added accompaniment I played and sang that song to every sleepy child and to the whole house, the house where my little children played and cried and slept and sang for a generous number of years. And now he has grown and is a gentle burly six-foot-five who sings.
The mysterious gift introduced itself pleasantly, this writing of songs and lullabies, from sickness and from a child’s moon-whim, and when I launched forth from stale warmth into the cool pre-dawn day the beautiful strangeness came from some ethereal place of love and light. I had not intended to sing as I walked on the dirt road in the dark with cows and wheat and stars for companions. But the notes arose unbidden, unknown and familiar like the cry of a loon on a misty lake in Maine that a boy could hear and never be the same, a song never forgotten, a haunting call that seeped inside and declared without discernable audible words that life in this world is so arduously grueling and so utterly wonderfully vulnerably beautiful. The notes rose and pushed and cracked their way out and joined with other notes in cascades of connections and sought out and bonded with words, not random words but the only words in the universe that belonged paired with these sounds in that singular way, and together they trotted along the staff, they tumbled out and flippered across shadowy sands toward shimmers of water and light, they marched and skipped and trickled through staffs of dark-matter scaffolding, and they became a song, a lullaby, dozens of lullabies, that I sang on dark roads and then plunked muffled on the old Evans in the still-dark house with the still-sleeping children, lullabies that I penciled roughly on music staff all the time knowing knowing knowing that if I failed to write them down, immediately, write them even on a discarded crumpled envelope, if I did not honor them and thank them and praise them, if I did not coddle and cradle and rock them, these the lullabies on the wing would lift quietly away, away up and over the mountains pink with the rising sun and be lost irretrievably. I would lose my buried treasure. And I did lose some of them, perhaps many, because I put them off and thought Surely I can remember something so lovely and I still mourn their evanescence, their floating off, and they were never heard, never known, to anyone but me, for a few dear moments.
But most remain. Songs about summer nights and singing katydids. Songs about moles and robins and lambs. Songs about gardens and mothers and being tender and mild and forgiving. And here I sit, older, more tired, remembering that I used to compose lullabies that I would sing to my children who now are grown and gone. But the mystical music can carry me to where somehow I can span the gulf of growing up and of letting go, I can reach over the chasms of grief and time and memory, and thread us all carefully together.
You can see the sheet music for Roger’s lullabies on the Rabbit Lane: Songs page of this blog.
Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist. Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.