What We Hand Over | SSAA Chorus A cappella | 5'
This is my second time setting one of Maya Jackson’s texts to music, after Breathe in Hope. In reading Maya’s poem “The crone’s lament,” I was once again drawn in by the honestly, openness, and vulnerability that unfold in her writing.
This poem asks us to consider what we hand over to others, whether that refers to physical objects— the “cups, keys, [and] pots” described in the poem—or the intangible emotions, feelings and pain mentioned here. The “Prelude” section of “The crone’s lament” concludes like this:
All of these things. Your things. Yes, your things. Though you give them to me
They are never mine. And I’d like to hand them over.
In 2020, as I’m writing this, so many of us in the United States are engaging in long-overdue conversations about race and (in)equality. We are reckoning—openly, finally—with the memories and trauma that are part of our country’s brutal history, particularly the ongoing violence that so many of us continue to perpetuate, willfully or unconsciously, against Black lives. The legacy of this violence has been handed down over centuries; it is deeply and undeniably entrenched in our country and in us.
In Maya’s writing, I hear a resonant call to consider our own complicity in this handing over. Whether you’re experiencing What We Hand Over as an audience member, singer, or conductor, I invite you to consider what you hand over—what you expect others to hold for you, what you pass along, what you gift—within your own life. I urge you, too, to continue working to halt our country’s legacy of handing over inequality, trauma and pain.
People are always handing me things
Cups, keys, pots, pain. paradigms of blindness.
Trauma. Clutter. Violence.
You’d be surprised
By the things people hand over.
I guess I'm a person who looks like they can hold a lot.
I’ve learned memory outweighs most things
Matter made of wood. glass. Plastic. Rope.
Memory outweighs those things.
These sensations that blister like something too hot to hold
Or peel white right into the hand like a bright lightbulb
These emotions that burn brown into the skin like a hot comb
Feelings, wide like constellations, can be lost and found.
You’d be surprised by the things people hand over.