Joan, a vocalist-turned-composer, explores how her survival of a historic train wreck collides with her physical and emotional losses — including the lives of three of her children, and later, her singing voice.
The episode is available now wherever you get your podcasts.
Host poet Todd Boss examines the resilience it takes to continue to exist in a world when so many of the things you love have been taken away from you.
Joan's story inspires Todd to write not one, but three poems, one for each of her boys. "Sound Mind" affirms Joan's choice to become a composer after all she's been through. "Accord" draws connections by interchanging griefs surrounding the near-homophonic words "boys" and "voice." And "A Trophy" recognizes and celebrates Joan's resilience by transforming her vocal "atrophy" into something worthy of the red carpet. You can read and listen to all three poems, and read Joan's responses, below.
"This meant so much to me," says Joan. "I don't think you have any idea.... It's been life-transforming and affirming and fun and serious and ... the whole gamut."
Possession is the Latin rooted in composition.
Ownership & control underwrite all you’ve
written. As a composer, you’re one who possesses, as
compos mentis is possession of mind. Open the
composer’s, you’ll find notation — from the Latin
to explain. To possess explanations & set them free:
like mine, a fine & measureless profession!
“Sound mind—I’m not crazy, as in I have full control over my mental faculties.
Sound mind—I’m a composer whose mind is actually filled with sound.
I think this poem is recognizing and affirming that I am a composer. A composer of music, but also the composer of my life. I compose my life - so do you. We are all works in progress. I create the composition of my life.
Ownership & control underwrite all you’ve written. As a composer, I control the expression of my creativity. Music is my healer. My creative process is born from life’s experiences - particularly those of loss, grief and pain but not just those things, Todd says all you’ve written. ALL of life. Joys, celebrations! Also, I think a reference to having control over this part of my life, where in I did not and do not have full control over all physical aspects of my body. It’s just the way life is.
I own my story. I possess the knowledge of my story—it is my composition.”
She lost her boys. Then her singing
she might hear boys and voice
as one noise. (Voice will be
every boys and sing.) Ask how many
voice she lost, she may say three —
in her speaking boys breaking as any voice boys will do
“Who in my life grants me recognition? It feels like no one. […] A perfect stranger recognizes me. Todd is saying, I see you. With empathy and sympathy and heart-space, he sees me. It is also a play on vocal cords — a cord. Even, a chord.
In the closing sentences, Todd really seals the deal. He ties together the idea of how boys’ voices change. And in that changing process, their voices break. They break. The voice breaks — eventually. We break. Eventually all voices break. If my boys had lived, eventually their voices would have changed, true enough. But also, don’t you know? All voices break, including mine, eventually. And now it’s broken.
A cord. An umbilical cord. A chord. Accord.”
—Grammy sleek— sings its glimmer into the limelight
behind the podium where you lift it
to your bosom as applause enfolds
you like a mink— and in that pause
you think of your mother, how still
she buoys you here past worry, past
all fear of failure— and your speech
is good, and there’s a wild party after—
but not till you’re home will you finger
what’s graved there: your name, and then, WINNER BEST LAUGHTER.
“As you can probably understand, as I became pregnant each time, I was filled with worry and fear of failure. It’s inevitable and reasonable to understand this. But the bigger monster was the shame I felt at the lack of control I had over my body and its failure. This theme surrounds me to this day. And it parallels the lack of control I have over my vocal cords. Todd and I talked a lot about this failure and it was unsettling. I’m now past worry, past all fear of failure because of this trophy being handed to me.
A good speech, a great party! There is joy! There is healing. There is engagement with the world.
But arriving home, tracing my finger (my piano playing finger) over what’s graved there. Using the word graved instead of engraved. Buried those boys and now my voice.”
If you think there's a poem in your story, leave us a message on our Haiku, Hawaii, guest line, at 808-300-0449.
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Big thanks to Joan, whose vulnerability and willingness were the catalysts for a truly transformative conversation.