About the lyrics
In the preface of Stitching Porcelain, Gettysburg College English Prof. Deborah Larsen Cowan writes:
"This sequence is based on the life of Matteo Ricci, the Italian jesuit who settled in China in 1583 and who remained there until his death in 1610... I was immediately enamored with this courageous, canny man and of the country that was China. Matteo Ricci left a journal in which the writing is elegant and restrained; he also wrote letters. We know that he was born in Macerata, studied in Rome, sailed from Lisbon to India on the St. Louis, entered Canton in Buddhist dress, suffered losses on water and injury from robbers, made an awe-inspiring map, adopted the Mandarin hat-and-silks, prostrated himself before an empty Dragon Throne."
Libby Larsen chose the excerpts so the composition could be considered an allegory for the journey students complete at Gettysburg College. These journeys, much like that of Matteo Ricci, developed from challenging circumstances and have ended in unexpected, shining new places.
The lyrics to Crowding North:
When I was titled Captain and went down to the sea,
to the port of Lisbon to muster my fine sailors,
those of our Portuguese navy, the finest on the waters,
the bells of the Church of the Wounds of Christ
began to toll, there was a parade in my name,
there were jugglers, long silk flags, flotillas
glittering for my pleasure in the sun.
Gian Pietro, if you receive the words of this letter,
Praise God the Father of all for the miracle.
The worst is that the ink dries up in the heat:
words disappear from our pages like anchors
A word floats away like a pilot's thumb
severed after blistering choices
during some Cimmerian storm.
Gian Pietro, I remember
how once at noon in our cloistered
Roman gardens, a three-band golden bee
passed into a blue droning of tuberose,
how, once, a blackbird threw no shadow.
That day under a brown sail we crowded north
against the verges of delta, edges of river.
The ginger, cassia, cane grew black
in dropping light until a flash
of white sturgeon became the very link
to the astrobodies of night:
we had entered the Grand Silence of a great swarm.
This is the simple history
of a chamber for the cricket
who once inside his house and carried close
against a person's chest, the lattice of a heart;
or fed some specks of pure white radish,
grows wild to vocalize and sings
and sings so that the cage
threatens to seed and flower again,
again and again as his bounds
set him down in the decorous, slatted dark.