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  • Scott Williamson

30/30 Project: Angel Songs

Angel Songs

(for my Mother)


Every angel is terrifying*

Wielding a sword or

holding the scales of justice

Flying towards the stars

falling to earth like a satellite

Every angel is terrifying

messenger of life or

Death; guardian or harpy

daemon or fury


I had just skipped the playlist to

Faure’s b-minor piano Nocturne

when an Angel touched your lips

took away your “death rattle”

and left you in what I want to

believe was peace

As I listened

to the music

and busied about

your inert body

I didn’t register

what just happened

until the nurse

returned to confirm

your passing

Every angel is terrifying

(Venice – Roanoke | July – Dec. 2016)


*Every Angel is terrifying is the opening of Rilke’s masterpiece sequence of 10 Duino Elegies, named after the Castle near Trieste (in the northern Adriatic, not far from Venice) where Rilke famously experienced a rush of inspiration and began one of the great books of 20th century poetry.

The Finnish composer, Einojuhanni Rautavaara died on July 27 of this year. July 27 is the birthday of both my father and my late Aunt Peggy. The first work of Rautavaara’s I heard, which hooked me on this great Finnish composer, was his setting of Rilke, “Die Erste Elegie.” It was one of several modern choral masterpieces I kept close at hand as I prepared to compose my own new work this summer, a setting of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. This composition project was the focus of my Venetian sabbatical, which my mother made possible.

This is my first poem in this month-long “30/30” project (and only the second one I’ve written beyond draft form) which confronts the death of my mother, from brain cancer, last November.

As we say at Temple every week, “may her memory be for a blessing.”

The photo of Venice's island-cemetery, Isola San Michele, seen from behind a restaurant on the Fundament Nuove in Cannaregio was taken by the author.

PS: The poem is also on the Tupelo Press website on their "30/30 Project" page, under Day 7.

Check it out, and thanks for reading!

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