The Lady on the Hill

Levine School of Music, “The Lady on the Hill”

Sounds with the Young (Upton Street, NW, circa 2001) arose from my time at the Levine School in Music in Washington, DC., a large community music school that serves infants through adults.

“Splayed stairs, up this way or that,
invite the affair of the day …”

The poem opens with the building’s architectural beauty, something that likely deserves a work of its own. An elegant Spanish style revival, it was built in 1906-07 to house the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory. Specific requirements – high, dry, apart from magnetic disturbances – helped launch its site on a steep hill upon a rocky foundation.

The low, Mission-style tile roof became a “hat” for the “Lady on the Hill” in the poem. The idea of a welcoming lady must have subconsciously resonated from the idea of a universal Mother Goose as I thought of the children in my poem.

Brick and tile inlays above bay window arches

My colleagues brought music to life for young children in infinitely imaginative ways. One was Mara Bershad, who taught in the Washington area for decades before her too early demise. A musician, harpsichordist, and dancer she spun experiences for children from classical music, traditional songs, movement and artful collaboration that left us speechless with delight.

Dedicated to the Memory of Mara Bershad (1950-2010)

Sounds with the Young by Kaja Weeks was first published in District Lines: An Anthology of Original Local Work, V. 4 (Politics and Prose) in 2017.

***

Sounds with the Young
(Upton Street, NW, circa 2001)

The music school sits like a lady on a hill,
with a red tile roof for a hat and
light stucco dress,
Spanish revival style, por favor.
Carved limestone surrounds her entry.
Splayed stairs, up this way or that,
invite the affair of the day.
Singing four-year olds peal inside,
festive as nothing else you could imagine.

Today she has chosen Respighi and
Mara, curved-back like a cat,
pulls scarves along the floor and
suddenly twirls them high in the air.
Max stares and then lifts his arm
with his blue chiffon rising before Agnes,
light-footed as Mara, swipes it away.
Her giggles pounce – staccato as celesta
in The Pines of Rome.

Corinne, born in Gabon and raised on drums,
rolls her fingers and slaps her hands.
Ka-ha-ha-booom, ka-boooooom!
Reese and Chloé sound thunder from their hides,
Ka-ha-ha-booom, ka-boooooom!
But no tremors could disturb this building,
reborn from the Carnegie Geophysical Laboratory, 1907!
Solid as the rock she stands on. Roll on sounds!

Close by, Ming leads babies to sway.
Cries and gurgles in soft laps,
lullaby waltzes hummed and sung —
Buy some Coulter’s candy.
Next door a glossy petite gamelan jingles
and Indonesian shadow puppets dance while
Monica’s kids cluster in the hallway –
they can’t wait to sing like rain, jump puddles,
freeze mid-air to her piano sounds
that seem to spin them and stop them
like magical notes –
Zeke, Liam and resting-tone Lee.

Upstairs the serious folks have begun
to practice and play.
The old Russian pianist with a black pipe
demands perfection from her charges,
and Charles’ deep baritone voice
falls from windows and floats down
the wide green lawn toward Rock Creek.

At noon Sally, reciting summer camp to-do,
and Vera and I walk the shaded path
to Howard Law School cafeteria
where round tables with bud vases,
warm southern cooking and cool lemonade await.
The ceiling is high, murmurs alive.
We release our sighs into them,
trade quips and tales and sometimes
laugh so hard our bellies hurt –
before we head back for more blooming music
with the lady on the hill.

Sounds with the Young (Upton Street, NW, circa 2001) ©2016 by Kaja Weeks

 

The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia)

The coastal meadows blaze golden,
break blue water, blue sky.
A wooden boat nudges
through green and purple marsh reeds.

I am home. I have never lived here.
How could this place settle on me
like linen upon an infant
sung and rocked to sleep.

Who slipped this place in me?
Was it my choosing, or has it crept unknown?
When did it come to quicken my breath
and then supply the resting sigh?

I am a refugee’s child — daughter of a true
native daughter of southwestern Estonia —
who grew with her mother’s
hollow in her heart.

I yearn for the resting sigh she was ripped from,
for the sway of reed plumes on her seaward creek,
remembered sounds and gilded sight —
such tricks of time and space.


Here is an audio clip of my reading The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) as it appeared within the Bluestem Literary Magazine site


The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) ©2016 by Kaja Weeks

The Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) was first published by Bluestem Literary Magazine. In it I write about the mysterious effect of “knowing” a place in which one steps foot for the first time — in this instance, the reedy, flowering coastal meadows of Pärnu, my mother’s hometown by the sea. The place settles on me, “like linen upon an infant sung and rocked to sleep,” and I wonder, “Who slipped this place in me? Was it my choosing, or has it crept unknown?” These, I ponder, are markings of being “a refugee’s child — daughter of a true daughter of southwestern Estonia — who grew with her mother’s hollow in her heart.”


Below is my translation of Coastal Meadows (Southwest Estonia) into Estonian. I am grateful to Estonian-born philologist, journalist and poet Sirje Kiin for her kind fine-tuning.

RANNANIIDUD (Pärnumaal)

Rannaniidud helgivad kuldselt,
lahutavad sinise vee sinisest taevast.
Paadi pea tungib
läbi rohekaslilla pilliroo.

Olen kodus. Ei iial siin elanud.
Kuidas on see paik saanud minu omaks,
nagu linane katte pandud mu peale,
kui imikul kellele hällis lauldakse?

Kes pani selle paiga salamahti minusse?
Kas valisin selle ise või hiilis ta mulle teadmatult?
Millal pani ta mu kiiresti hingama
ja kinkis siis rahustava ohke?

Olen pagulase tütar,
ustava Pärnumaa tütre-tütar,
laps kes kasvas
oma ema südamevaluga.

Igatsen seda rahustavat ohet,
mere äärse pilliroo sulgede sahinat,
meeles peetud helisid, kuldseid sahvatusi ,
neid aja ja ruumi vigureid.

The Wedding of Salme

The Wedding of Salme*

By Kaja Weeks

* Adapted from Tähemõrsja (Starbride), an ancient Estonian runic song/verse
and composed in memory of my mother, Salme M.

On a field moist with morning fog,
by a craggy shepherd’s path it lay.
A little hen’s egg, left alone,
no nest, poor thing, just dew.

Walking there a widow spied it,
lifted it gently, clutched it closely
into her apron pocket she tucked
the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.

Then the egg she did warm,
three months, another and then a day.
The foundling was born, a child emerged,
a girl so sweet and full of grace.

Salme blossomed, into beauty
she grew. A maiden chaste who
many courted, wooed with gifts
and begged her to wed.

Not to the Sun with fifty horses,
Nor to the waxing-then-waning moon,
but to a celestial suitor, steady and bright,
son of the North Star, she did consent.

“Wed, Maid Salme, with Starry Youth,”
I did whisper, hidden in time.
“So airy and light and silver-voiced,
your daughter fine I can be.”

The tall wise oaks and dashing alders,
their trailing catkins, roots and branches,
all to your wedding who come, then
my uncles and aunties – my kin shall be.

So Salme, in silk, and Star, a-shimmering,
the Cross-Cane danced upon the green,
Thus betrothed, the chariot alit,
they ascended to dwell in the sky.

Now fearless and free, I may dance
across earth or foaming sea.
Mother, your shield casts from above,
so constant, so bright, ever on me.

Copyright © 2015 by Kaja Weeks

The Wedding of Salme was first published by Fickle Muses: Journal of Mythic Poetry and Fiction


About the Poem …

The Wedding of Salme is derived from one of the most ancient surviving Estonian myths, Starbride (Tähemõrsja) and recreated with my personal twist of longing by entering the imagined space –“I did whisper, hidden in time.” A characteristic of my writing often is that the past, even very distant past, fluidly interlaces the present or future.

There are many versions of this beautiful myth to be found in Estonian sources. While they all tell the same basic story, the verse expressions of the runic verses (regilaul) show rich regional variety and it was a thrill to research beyond my own basic knowledge when I began creating an interpretation in my own words. I loved knowing how ancient the origins were — over a thousand years or more — reciting the beautiful sounds aloud, and cherishing the early oral preservation that spoke of people’s hopes, wishes, and understanding of their world.

Estonian runic verses are highly stylized in meter and other literary qualities. Although it wasn’t possible to re-create all of that, I wanted to pay homage to some of the rhetorical characteristics, such as alliteration (the same sound at the beginning of words, e.g. “So Salme in silk and Star a-shimmering”); assonance (repeated vowel sounds, e.g. “moist with morning fog”); and parallelism (repeating ideas in a symmetrical way, e.g. “the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.”) all framed within a rhythmic, prosodic style.