Written by Margaret Price
When you were tiny I could hear you before you made a sound. My whole body was tuned to a listening so deep that the vibrations of your indrawn breath had me moving before either of us truly woke. The sound of you was threaded through my sleep and I heard you like I hear my own pulse now in silence.
In my waking listening, I would watch our reflection in the black squares of the window lighten and vanish in the white August dawn and wonder if we are ever again so heard as in those first weeks? My mother must have done this, and her mother, and hers. A long line of listeners in the night hours; their ears tethered to the tiny sounds of their babies; their minds wandering in the dark.
I did not just listen though, I also sang. I sang all the songs that were sung to me. Some of them I barely remembered but as I hummed they surfaced, half a chorus or some of the first verse, and then I could dredge them from my mind and sing them into you. Because that is what it felt like: like I was singing them into your tiny body. Filling the bones of you with my memories of being small and safe.
To sing gives form to words. We put breath in them and set them vibrating in our skulls and in our sinuses. We shape them with tongue and teeth and send them out to move the atoms of the world around us in sound. But when I sang to you at night, when you were so small, I sang softly and I sent those sounds only to vibrate in you. It seemed that if I could fill the caverns of you with these songs, they might echo there all the love of all the women who had sung them before me so that no matter what hard words you might hear as you grew, even from me, these lullabies would remain the song of yourself.
Now it is years later. You are still small and we are in a house by the beach with my family. It has been a day full of waves and sand castles; ice cream, grandparents, cousins and high emotional drama. You are tired and a little weepy in your bed and you ask me to sing you a song, so I do. And through the wall, I can hear my sister singing that same song to her two small sons.
“Skeeters am a hummin’ on the honeysuckle vine…”
Margaret Price is a mother, lawyer, and occasional scribbler.