Threshold Choir

I came across a poem recently and it, and its backstory, moved me deeply. I’ve reread it several times and have thought about it often. The poet, David Sloan, said that he wrote this poem after hearing a friend describe his experiences as a member of a group that sings people who are close to dying “over the threshold.”

This morning a friend wrote to tell of a relative’s death, a beautiful passing accompanied by love, laughter and tears. It struck me that she and her family were essentially “singing” their loved one over the threshold. I’m hoping that she reads this poem today.

Threshold Choir
by David Sloan

Everyone’s eyes are closed—
the singers, the granddaughter 
asleep in a chair pulled close 
to the bed, and what’s left
of a woman breathing raggedly, 
straining to escape a husk. 

Despite the angularity 
of the room, circles appear 
everywhere; a ring of family 
photographs, singers surrounding 
the bed, the tag around the dying 
woman’s flower-stem wrist, the O 
made by the dozing girl’s mouth.

The tubes have been pulled out, 
machines have stopped humming.   
They sing adagio, softly, 

I will be your standing stone

To read the entire poem, click here.

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Kiesha Shephard at her blog, Whispers from the Ridge. She’s shining a spotlight on one of her favorite poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar. I know I’ll be returning to her site again to reread the poem, “Sympathy,” that she is sharing there.

18 thoughts on “Threshold Choir

  1. Linda Mitchell says:

    Oh, Molly….Molly, Molly, Molly….this is so perfect. And, I just read Catherine’s poem and found that perfect too. Today is my mother and father-in-laws anniversary…and 9/11 and the day we say goodbye to our Pop Pop. This is so perfect. The circles of love are so incredibly real. I wish I could take some and give them to those that need them like candy or a flower.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fran Haley says:

    Molly, in the days before she died, my mother-in-law sang and sang. She saw visions; she called to siblings long gone… I know many stories of those on the threshold hearing music, seeing something glorious so that their faces lit up (some of whom had not been responsive for a while). How beautifully Sloan captures the passing … thank you for this profound offering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Thanks for sharing your memories of your mother-in-law and how song was important in the days before she died. I think it’s also true that people suffering from Alzheimer’s often have keen associations and memories with music. There’s comfort there for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tabatha says:

    I have thought of it as “singing someone home,” but I don’t know where I got that from. Thanks for this beautiful poem, Molly. So much grace here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lindabaie says:

    It is a wonderful thing to sing, something sadly lost to us these past months. My brother & sister-in-law are their church’s music directors. They no longer have a choir but play the music while she sings through a sound system while the congregation is outside. So far it is working until bad weather, & it is lovely. When my husband was leaving us and in hospice, there were some who came to sit with him & read poetry, sometimes stories. I was there some of the time & it gave a peace to him & to me at that hard time. This is so loving, Molly. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      It is so sad to think of all the choirs silenced by Covid. Still, I’m so touched by those who give so much to others at challenging times. I’m so glad that you had such support and that it was comforting to you and to your husband.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. maryleehahn says:

    One of the things that helped me connect with my mom through the pain and the mental anguish at the end of her life was music. We sang through the playlist of the songs I made for her 80th birthday. I treasure that memory. It wasn’t quite at the threshold, but I like to think it helped her make her way there so she could escape the pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. margaretsmn says:

    What a profound poem and perfect for Linda. I’m glad she saw it. We did this same circling when my father-in-law died. It was sacred. He died during the Sunday morning service he attended during his lifetime. The priest was with us, but the deacon said she felt his passing while she delivered the prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kay Mcgriff says:

    What a beautiful service to provide and a beautiful poem to share it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow. There are so many lines that resonate. It tugs at my heart. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing this gorgeous poem, Molly.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There is just so much rich and beautiful grief in the poems this week…this is the feeling of a lesson sinking a little deeper in, like the song that settles in your core and comes back by itself when you need it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Music can bring so much solace. When my father was dying, four years ago, I brought him a cassette player with music that he liked. It lit him up inside, unfortunately he wasn’t able to get it going when i wasn’t there. Thanks for this poem, that triggered my memories.

    Liked by 1 person

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