Songs they taught me

A sidelong look at today’s days of unreason prompt.

“Nearly everything we are taught is false except how to read”

~  Jim Harrison from Songs of Unreason



I had a loved one, a grandmother,

who had learned that the world is cruel,

and no mealy-mouthed words, eucharistically moulded,

change one iota in the grinding of the wheels.

She had the tools of intellect and kept them sharp,

one way to fight against the darkness.

Find your knives and keep them sharp, she said.

You will need them.

I had another, a mother,

who feared to teach a love of beauty,

because it didn’t pay, and poverty is grim.

Find your own way to beauty, she said,

by following the pavement grey.

And I had another, a father,

who taught nothing, but showed

that gentleness and compassion is the noble way,

and if that fails, use your fists.

I have been taught in that subtlest of ways,

caught in the floating strings of kin,

the woven map of kin

that stretches further than the heart can hold,

that love does not conquer all,

that love is never enough,

that all things end,

so value each moment, like a miser his coin.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

40 thoughts on “Songs they taught me”

  1. I really like the way you told the story of your family–and the songs they taught you. The importance of valuing each moment.
    (And weirdly again, thought totally different, we both wrote of songs and love–and valuing a moment.)

    1. Yes, I’ve just read your poem, and it’s so typical of you to see things in terms of generosity. I’m a bit meaner, I think. My family taught me without any of us being aware of it, and I am what I am because of them.

      1. I suppose it depends where you are in life. There are sad times and times we think we shall never pull through but there is hope and laughter and joy too.

      2. Yes, that’s true. I wasn’t thinking really in terms of a whole life, more in terms of the hours that go into each day. For example, I have a lot to look forward to, dreams come true, husband, children, a career (starting) as a writer, lovely house, but I know that there are four tiny kittens somewhere in our meadow, with their parents (father is with them oddly enough) strays and we’re going to have to do something about them. I hate the idea because they’re babies, but if we leave them to gambol too long, the six will be ten, then twenty at least by next spring. Enough sadness to dampen any happiness.

      3. Cant you give them away, take to PDSA and get them neutered? They can be very good ratters and we had a relative on a farm who had about 30. He fed them porridge every morning and then for the rest of the time the fended for themselves – all feral really.

      4. There is no PDSA here. When stray cats become a problem in the town the municipality rounds them up and destroys them. Catching them when we live in miles of unfenced farmland and woodland is going to be very difficult. Having them neutered (for six cats you’re talking about $1000) and letting them go isn’t an option either as we would become their legal owners. We’ve adopted two cats found in the street when we lived in town and one of them kills anything she can get her paws on, the rarer the bird the better. That’s why she now has a bell on her collar. I don’t want to encourage any more feline predators around here, the wildlife (no rats) struggles against the trigger-happy locals as it is.

      5. I’m hoping they’ve roamed into another field. I have to keep the dog on a lead all the time now in case he finds one of the kittens. The only dogs around here are hunting dogs…

  2. I like your poem a lot. However, like you, I don’t agree with the “Love” lines. 🙂 It doesn’t stop me from liking your poem. Too many books end (in my opinion) badly, but remain great reads. Much beauty in your write.

    1. I’m very suspicious of people who toss love about like confetti yet continue to subscribe to the political or cultural ideas that spawned the abuse they are sending their love to make better. If you follow me 🙂

      1. I would think that would be everybody. No, that’s too cynical. Some people honestly offer love without an agenda. But then the measure I have used for love is to do for others (seeking their best interests) without expecting anything (including love) in return. Admittedly, that limits the number who offer “love.” I could list a cornucopia of people who spread it like confetti — but I’m certain what they are spreading isn’t love.

      2. You’re right. Some people do have big hearts. Most of us are less generous but some are very generous with their expressions of sympathy, prayers etc as long as they don’t have to do anything concrete to help.

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