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Letters to Little Bean

Work Type: Choral / Vocal, Classical

Instrumentation: SSAA chorus

Duration: 4 minutes

Little Bean
Ready or Not

 

When Allegra asked me to write a piece for Mother’s Day, my first thought was that I definitely didn’t want to set some sort of saccharine ode to motherhood; I wanted to find a text that felt real, honest, an account that didn’t feel massaged into palatability – something with teeth.  Luckily for me, my friend, poet, and aspiring rabbi Rachel Barenblat had just completed a cycle about her first (successful) pregnancy, and the candor and vulnerability of her work inspired to set two of her poems.

Written during the early weeks of Rachel’s pregnancy, Little Bean is primarily about the constant dread of miscarriage; many, many babies never make it past the first few months, and I found her poem particularly moving in how it captures the fragility of that time, the daily terror of waking up and wondering if the baby is still alive.  It’s something that few people talk about – miscarriage is, of course, an intensely personal and private trauma – and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to bring something normally kept silent out into the open.

Ready or Not, written just before her child was due, is a different kind of emotional whirlwind, blending anticipation and excitement with self-doubt, the questions that (I imagine) all parents ask themselves for the rest of their lives: “Am I ready? Can I do this?”

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LITTLE BEAN (ONE)

I don’t like to cough too hard,

to move too fast.

Something twinges

and I’m afraid I’ll shake you loose,

little bean.

 

How can I convince you

not to jump ship?

Some mother I am, already

conflating you with the sibling

that wasn’t.

 

Every morning

I talk myself through

pushing the thin needle

into my skin.

If it keeps you here…

 

I don’t believe

in making bargains

with God, but

I’m making one now

with every breath.

 

If my mother

could hear this

she would laugh and cry

like a fragile bird shaking

it never gets easier.

 

READY OR NOT (SIX)

Less than a month now

until we meet face to face

skin to skin

 

when you squirm in my hands

will I recognize the movements

I felt from the inside

 

your tiny dolphin body

surfacing and then curling

back beneath my sea?

 

your little world

is as ready  as I can make it

your crib wears new sheets

 

the borrowed breast pump

waits to be useful

I hope I am useful

 

let me cup my hands

around your flickering flame

in December’s deepening dark

– Rachel Barenblat