Va cantando – Susanna Lang

J. S. Bach, Cantata BWV 209

Va cantando al faccia al mar, the soprano exhorts the traveler: go forth
              singing in the face of the sea.  There is no sea at the edge
of this inland city and the lake is a postcard, but I like the idea
              of singing in the face of potholes that grow more immense
each time I drive down Barry Avenue, in the face of burst water lines,
              blinking traffic lights, clogged storm drains, roads blocked
for utility work—singing as I back into the mid-day traffic along Lincoln Avenue
              to the vehement accompaniment of horns.  Or on the El platform
where the wind is colder than I expected, in the train car where no one
              will notice that I am not simply talking with someone
on my smartphone.  Sing while riding the escalators where our bodies
               form a counterpoint, one melody climbing with a great many extra notes
on the left while the other rises more slowly on the right, all of us in harmony
               for this brief moment.  Of course I have not sung where anyone
could hear me since my son told me that I no longer needed
               to sing him to sleep, though I was tempted Maundy Thursday
when the young man who checked out my groceries did not know
               about Hot Cross Buns, could not sing the nursery rhyme
my mother sang to me.  Aren’t we forgetting the songs we all used to know,
              and isn’t it time we listened to the soprano’s lilting trills? Past time
we learned to sing exactly as she tells us in Bach’s uncertain Italian.
SLangSusanna Lang’s newest collection of poems, Tracing the Lines, was published in 2013 by the Brick Road Poetry Press. A two-time Hambidge Fellow and recipient of the Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, her poems and translations have appeared in such journals as Little Star, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, december, and Poetry East. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.