Colette's Heirlooms


Colette's Heirlooms


two treble voices

  • Premiere: 1 May 2009 / The Phoenix Concerts / Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy, NYC / Gilda Lyons and Elaine Valby, voice
  • Instrumentation: two treble voices
  • Duration: 15'
  • Text: Colette Inez

Program Note

  1. Old Woman, Eskimo
  2. Skokie River Cadenzas
  3. Reading Da Leaves
  4. God and Gravity
  5. Sylvia, Aloft
  6. Elizabeth, The Rain
  7. Lake Song

When I met poet Colette Inez at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in summer 2007, her glowing presence, striking sense of humor, quick mind and gift for word-play all charmed me beyond expression.  From her powerfully positive nature, I'd have never imagined that she came from such a stormy beginning: an orphan from Belgium brought to the U.S. at age eight to live with a disturbed and ultimately abusive family (imagine a time when a suggested treatment for clinical depression was the adoption of a child).  Profoundly moved by her memoir The Secret of M. Dulong, I spent the summer ruminating both on her path and on the impulses in me inspired by her story: to help, to adopt, to befriend, to offer some of my family heirlooms since she herself had so painfully few (after finally finding her birth mother, Colette writes to her "If you would choose to give me something your mother gave you, something of sentimental value, I would deeply appreciate it" but receives no response to the request.)

In processing Colette's story, I came to recognize that all of these first impulses of mine were utterly ridiculous: a strong and accomplished poet, Colette did not need my help; a mid-career artist by the time I was born, she certainly did not need adopting; a much-loved soul, she didn't even need my friendship, though I felt grateful that she accepted it; and, as for heirlooms: Colette made her own. In the lifetime of poems that she has written and shared with the world, Colette created a new kind of heirloom.  From this life's work, I have assembled the collection that serves as text for the 15 minute song cycle Colette's Heirlooms.

Colette's Heirlooms, for treble voices, is dedicated with admiration, respect and friendship to Colette Inez.  I extend my gratitude and appreciation to The ASCAP Foundation / Charles Kingsford Fund for commissioning the work.


1. Old Woman, Eskimo
Her singing makes
the rain fall.
Her sewing brings clouds.
When she stops sewing,
the green weather comes.
When she stops singing,
the white weather comes full of smooth threads
to sew up her song.
She has seen birth,
children waiting
for their names.
When she stops seeing,
the snow needles come
sewing the land
to the hem of the sky.
In her dream she is
a bone needle
that will not thread.
The hides come undone
all her songs are gone
inside the rain
for her children
to hear later on.

2. Skokie River Cadenzas
What is to come sleeps in the bud
now tilting upwards towards a thinning light.
Later, as I trace the path, the river passes
out of sight.

3. Reading Da Leaves
what do you want
gimme a little something
before I start
you gonna write a lucky poem
that make you rich
in da dark I see big ship
you gonna meet this moviestar
I see in da leaves
you gonna have a long journey
in da fall da jackpot is yours
because of da poem
wait I see your poem on TV
you got a hit show
gods gotta make it right
gimme a little more
my mother got a bad heart
I can tell by your hand
you the kind of person
like to have fun with your brains
da moviestar is gonna love you
and you gonna read him da poem
but he has a bad heart
and has an attack
then you get an idea for this big poem
I don't have change for a ten
it's gonna be okay
4. God and Gravity
[song without words]
5. Sylvia, Aloft
God and gravity
will not change
their laws of flight
to pull her back
to the window ledge.
Her lament is at an end,
gone with the blue wind
blowing past
the ailanthus
in a morning
that shrugged
its shoulders,
as if it were routine
to see legs
scissor into air,
a robe's pink blotch
dart downward,
followed by
a fantail
of waved hair,
flicking past
the kitchen windows
of neighbors
who were not looking
up or out,
and did not believe
in angels.

6. Elizabeth, The Rain
softens the earth where you've fallen
far beyond the talk
of souls becoming birds-
Elizabeth, which bird is yours?
Sand hill crane, high flyer, bright crow?
Is it they who have taken you away from me?
Or a sandpiper at the lip of the foam
where seabirds pray to rain
as another dominion of water?
Each day more souls fly in swarms
pulled by the sun and moon
above your stone-a green swell before the splash,
rainsoaked, distant grass
where clouds in flight console you,
but not the uproar in me at your leaving.

7. Lake Song
Every day our name is changed,
say stones colliding into waves.
Go read our names on the shore,
say waves colliding into stones.
Birds over water call their names
to each other again and again
to say where they are.
Where have you been, my small bird?
I know our names will change one day
to stones in a field
of anemones and lavender.
Before you read the farthest wave,
before our shadows disappear
in a starry blur, call out your name
to say where we are.

- Colette Inez

Text Permissions

Old Woman, Eskimo; Skokie River Cadenzas; and Lake Song © Copyright 1993 Colette Inez

Reading Da Leaves; Sylvia, Aloft; and Elizabeth, the Rain © Copyright 2004 Colette Inez
Used by permission of the author.