The SACRED VEIL

(2019) for composer Eric Whitacre

A series of poems written about my relationship with my late wife Julie, her battle with ovarian cancer, and the grief I experienced as a result of her passing in 2005. This is the most intensely personal poetry I have ever written, and it evoked exquisite and heart-breaking music from composer Eric Whitacre. A recording of this work is planned for release in 2020.

 

People's World magazine wrote, “The Sacred Veil may be the single most important musical contribution in our time, perhaps in any time, to a non-religious, as well as non-political—perhaps we might say non-teleological understanding of death and loss. Its length and difficulty may preclude it from inclusion in your average funeral, but to experience it in performance with 40 singers, or perhaps in recorded form, may be transformative for those whose grief, recent or deep-seated, has never completely found closure.” —People’s World

The Sacred Veil

list of movements

 

 

1. The Veil Opens

 

2. In a Dark and Distant Year

 

3. Home

 

4. Magnetic Poetry 

 

5. Whenever There Is Birth

 

6. I’m Afraid

 

7. I Am Here

 

8. Delicious Times

 

9. One Last Breath

 

10. Dear Friends

 

11. You Rise, I Fall

 

12. Child of Wonder

 

 

 

 

The Sacred Veil

texts

 

1. The Veil Opens

Whenever there is birth or death,

The sacred veil between the worlds

Grows thin and opens slightly up

Just long enough for Love to slip,

Silent, either in or out

Of this our fragile, fleeting world,

Whence or whither a new home waits.

And our beloved ones draw near,

In rapt anticipation, or

In weary gratitude, they stand;

Our loved ones stand so close, right here,

Just on the other side

Of Eternity.

                        — Charles Anthony Silvestri

 

 

2. In a Dark and Distant Year 

In a dark and distant year,

A wand’rer ancient and austere,

He surrounds himself with books he’s never read.

He was a child then, the world inside his head. 

 

He would often wonder, “Who

Could love a dreamer such as you?”

And so he trusted no one’s shadow but his own.

He was a fool then, and he was all alone. 

 

Then quite to his surprise,

Passing there before his eyes,

A girl unlikely, gently laughing by the shore.

She had unlocked his heart and let his spirit soar!

 

And on that golden, hopeful day

The boy was bold enough to say,

“Come, hold my deepest secrets here among the foam;

You are the world to me, and you… you feel like home.”

                        — Charles Anthony Silvestri

 

 

3. Home

You feel like home.

                        — Charles Anthony Silvestri

 

 

4. Magnetic Poetry

The enormous need

Egg-ache whispers urging

Moon wind chanting like sweet languid honey

Sleep-swimming through sweaty summer

Dream mists

 

The delirious girl

Woman goddess

Not yet a mother

But the spring life force is so near

What a bare symphony here

 

I recall our gorgeous moments together

Beneath my heaving peach skin

Essential you

Like some diamond gift incubating

In love

                        — Julia Lawrence Silvestri

 

 

 

 

5. Whenever There is Birth

Instrumental: no text

 

 

6. I’m afraid

I'm afraid we found something...

[Fifteen centimeter retroperitoneal cystic mass with complex internal septation... 

The patient is a twenty-eight-year-old white female, primagravida, in the third trimester of pregnancy.]

 

I'm afraid we found something...

[Pathology confirms grades I, II, and III mucinous cystic adenocarcinoma with focal carcinosarcoma consistent with ovarian primary.

Recommend six cycles Taxol and Carboplatin...]

 

I'm afraid we've found something...

[…two left adnexal cysts and a 

 septated right adnexal cyst…]

 

I'm afraid we've found something...

[…exploratory laparotomy and excision of bilateral ovarian dermoids…]

 

I'm afraid we've found something...

[…uterus, tubes, sacral pain… ovaries… recurrent, recurrent, recurrent…]

 

[Exploratory laparotomy,

total abdominal hysterectomy,

bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy,

paraaortic lymphadenectomy 

Bone scans in sacrum, left ilium, right acetabulum

metastasis...

metastasis…

metastasis…]

 

I'm afraid we found something...

I'm afraid we found something...

I'm afraid.

                        — Charles Anthony Silvestri

 

 

7. I Am Here

Instrumental: no text

 

 

8. Delicious Times

My hair started to fall out at precisely 1:00 on my birthday. 

 

By Thursday it was making a terrible mess, so the kids helped me shave off whatever was left. They’d pick up my hair from the ground and slap it on my head and say, “You need more hair!” and they would laugh and laugh. Then at bath time I wore my wig, and they would beg me to take it off and put it back on again - they howled with laughter.

 

At bedtime, when my little one plays with my hair, she just stroked my head and said, “It’s so soft and clean!” She says, “Mommy, your hair went bye-bye but it’ll be back soon!” I was most worried about her because she loves my hair so much, but she is just fine!

 

Today I visited my oldest at school and he shouted, “Hey everybody! My mom has a wig!” He was the star of the class as all the kindergarten stared, open-mouthed, in wonderment. It’s been a very funny week. The kids have been amazing, and we’ve had some really delicious times together.

                                                                        — Julia Lawrence Silvestri

 

 

9. One Last Breath

In a dark and distant year,

The wand’rer weary, full of fear,

Confronts a fated force more powerful than life —

A carriage made of sea

Has come to take his wife.

 

The waves too dark and deep to swim,

He hears his love cry out to him,

Her piercing anguish rising high above the foam.

“Please don’t let go of me

For you, you are my home!”

 

From the shore he sees his bride

As she fights hard against the tide.

He swears a sacred vow that every loved one keeps.

He steels himself,

Takes one last breath, and leaps. 

                                    — Eric Whitacre

 

 

10. Dear Friends 

Dear friends: tonight I feel that I must ask you to pray.

 

I just got out of the hospital tonight and I received some bad news. The scan showed that I had numerous liver and peritoneal metastases. My doctor said this meant I most likely had about two months to live. 

 

I am now asking you to pray as you have never prayed before. Please don’t pray that I will have a peaceful death. Please don’t feel pity for me. Just pray hard. Pray that I will be healed in a miraculous, supernatural way. Pray that God will give me wisdom as to what to do next. Fight with me, don’t give up on me.

                                                                                                — Julia Lawrence Silvestri

 

 

 

11. You rise, I fall

Listening to your labored breath,

Your struggle ends as mine begins.

You rise; I fall.

 

Fading, yet already gone;

What calls you I cannot provide.

You rise; I fall.

 

Broken, with a heavy hand

I reach to you, and close your eyes.

You rise; I fall.

                        — Charles Anthony Silvestri

 

 

12. Child of Wonder

Child of wonder

Child of sky

Time to end your voyage

Time to die.

 

Silent slumber calls you

Dark and deep

Child of soft surrender

Child of sleep.

 

—————

 

Child of sorrow

Child of rain

There is no tomorrow

No more pain.

 

Turn your silvered sail

Toward the light

Child of mourning

Child of night.

 

—————

 

Child of iridescence

Child of dream

Stars and moons will guide you

Down the stream.

 

Stretched on ocean waves

Of endless foam

Welcome home my child

Welcome home.

                        — Eric Whitacre

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