T H E  W I L D   L I L Y   I N S T I T U T E

Love In the Time of Plague

Global Awareness 

I give you the gift of poetry . . .

--Emily Isaacson

Ballad of the Oboe Player

“Darling,” said my mother,

winsome in the sun and rain,

“You’ll need clothing of salvation,

and the seams will make me pray.

“There’s nothing in my mind

that would constitute a cure for sin,

to make you autumn clothing,

to not let the winter in. 

“There’s nothing in my soul’s lament

that could purchase hope for you,

just a molding potato, bent,

and a lettuce in the dew.”

That was in Indian Summer,

then came almost winter’s snow,

“Daughter, there’s a legend runner

of the life before the fall crows.”

Tiny little elbows, and tiny little knees,

besides the mattress bare

is rent with filth and fleas,

you’re sleeping in my care.

If I had no clothes to make you

it would embarrass Mother Earth,

she would not let you run naked too,

she’d make you clothes of buckskin mirth.

When the snows had fallen glittering,

and winter had begun, fiercely beside

the icicles, were chickadees twittering,

over the clothing I had never worn outside.

In the house, I could wear velvet,

at the table, I wear pearls,

but what good is finery to catch a rabbit

and skin it for the soup of earls.

I couldn’t go to school and write,

the stack of books was piled high,

like cakes I couldn’t have at noon’s light

or mandarins whose skins I dared not pry.

I couldn’t go to church,

my shoes had holes too,

in front of all the other little boys and girls;

my vitamins leaked through.

Finally my mother stated, “Brawny,

I will measure you,”

and she measured every scrawny

limb, my waist and ankles too. 

A tick-tock-ticking sounded

the wood grandfather clock,

busy were we, without being hounded,

yes, now we were busy with our material stock.

Busy enough not to let the wind know,

for a secret announced to the wind

is a tall tale to all upon its flaming show,

instead of the coal light of a cinder.

So here I stand, a statue girl,

in potato sacks I would relay,

whose mother could not string a pearl,

but played me music all the day.

The winter was the worst that year,

it snowed ’till March, I would wager,

the men would sit and drink a beer,

the women take a food voucher.

The snow lay in drifts to the top of the roof thatch,

and we melted the snow to drink water;

we cooked the last of the rice and lit beeswax,

then made soap from the olive oil to give lather.

In spring, the water with a heron’s feet pooled,

and eddied in the basin,

whether your day’s work was good or cruel,

there were sausages in casings.

A wolf or two howled outside the shellac

of our small wood home,

but there was nothing that we lacked

except salvation’s bodice and a shell comb.

“So get out the iron,” she said, “the wool,

and the cotton. Make yourself a modest girl,

who has two pigtails, bobbins, and can wear pearls.

Sew yourself a skirt by the candle’s wax pool.”

I saw my father sitting on the patriarchal chair,

there was newspaper for a hearth fire

that he had left in piles there;

my mother, not a moment wasted, not a tyre. 

She had a porcelain doll with a little head,

and it wore green skirts, with a carol book;

she loved it and would not sell it for thread.

It was the most expensive thing we had for looks.


My father bought a clarinet at the music store,

it was made for a prince, but he gave it to me as a gift;

it made a strange sound that carried over the floor,

and my mother sat dead, and listened to my thrift.

If her fingers were saving grace, they bought my reeds;

she made attractive bead bangles,

a scarf or a hat, or sewed cilantro seeds

in a garden of flowering guardian angels.


I could play the clarinet within the band,

neat and sensible clothing went with the olive soap,

so I memorized notes on the music stand,

and then the band master gave me an oboe.

My mother pulled the hair from the horse’s tail

to stuff my mattress, made my quilt;

now we had something beyond the grail

of butter and bread, and softened guilt.

The reed resounded in the silence lonely

of the shadows, and the smiles;

we thought lovely music was like being paid in honey,

then he bought her a loom, though she was in denial.

The mourning sound had an innocuous thrill

as the loom began to fly, as the lake became the melted


as the oboe would play, in lilting trill,

as only a prince would wear his alma matter.

As a girl wore her salvation, sewn by her mother,

a lavender sachet in her drawer and wool stockings,

a prince was clothed in the music of the oboe,

and resplendent was its tawny mocking.

There was a lyrical pursuit that would lead,

so it seemed to a musical pauper,

but was really a poor girl with a heady reed

in one meagre song after another.

One day, I would humbly place

my instrument on my knees on the stage,

and the orchestra would pause,

as I melted souls too good for the gods

with Gabriel’s Oboe. 

--Emily Isaacson, Hallmark

Visit Emily Isaacson's Websites:  site map

Read our Book pics of the Month for featured reading.

A Million Suns