for high voice and piano (poems by Henley, Dickinson and Colby)

Program Notes

This work is one several musical responses – both direct and indirect – I have made to the suicide of my mother, Charlou Thomas Satterwhite, in April of 1983.

“Loss,” which was to become the last song of the cycle, was the first music I composed after the event. After hearing an extraordinarily beautiful and sensitive performance by soprano Eileen Moore and pianist William Crowle, I decided to add two more songs to “Loss” to make a brief cycle, one which would explore a number of the emotions that one goes through in the face of such a tragedy.

The texts are by William Ernest Henley (although it is difficult to imagine this nasty, cynical little poem coming from the author of the insanely optimistic “Invictus”), Emily Dickinson, and Michael Colby. The three songs are performed without pause.


Madam Life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room
He’s the ruffian on the stair.

You shall see her as a friend
You shall bilk him once and twice:
But he’ll trap you in the end,
And he’ll stick you for her price.

With his kneebones at your chest,
And his knuckles at your throat,
You would reason-plead-protest!
Clutching at her petticoat;

But she’s heard it all before,
Well she knows you’ve had your fun.
Gingerly she gains the door,
And your little job is done.


There is a pain-so utter-
It swallows substance up-
So memory can step around-across-upon it
Then covers the abyss with trance-
So memory can step around-across-upon it
As one within a swoon
Goes safely-where an open eye-
Would drop him-
Bone by bone.


Loss is painless as it goes
The numbed tooth ripped from feeling
Leaves no scream as testament
Of its last agony at life –

The moment we are still – depart the plan
Of our survival – world at still
Unleashed at last to burden or remove
Our fainted state of holocaust

Doomed the chore of thought
Where senses clear removed, tap smooth no more
One last position at that moment
Then we are stopless changed.

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