for SATB chorus a cappella
Commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Chorus for Robert Porco and the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus
Text by Elizabeth Alexander
Now is the time of year when bees are wild
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.
I have found their dried husks in my clothes.
They are dervishes because they are dying,
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze
a drop of venom or of honey.
After the stroke we thought would be her last
My grandmother came back, reared back and slapped
a nurse across the face. Then she stood up,
walked outside, and lay down in the snow.
Two years later there is no other way
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.
Against the backdrop of the autumnal equinox, where dying bees feverishly fill the skies, Elizabeth Alexander portrays a family's encounter with illness, death, and human perseverance. Striking juxtapositions permeate the poem: life and death, venom and honey, frenzied movement and complete stillness. The equinox, one of the two days out of the year when daylight and night are equal in duration, captures the protagonist's dual state of existence: understanding the frailty of the human body and the resilience of the human spirit. With highly rhythmic, contrapuntal motives juxtaposed against lyrical lines and homophonic singing, the work's music follows the trajectory of Alexander's poem. Harmonies swirl through moments of dark richness to pale sparseness, evoking the poem's complex exploration of human striving, patient acceptance, and spiritual communion.