The Secret

~There are so many forces in the world that push against our inner guide, distracting us from the path that we feel called to follow.  This song, composed with songwriters Atahualpa Yupanqui and Violeta Parra in mind, is about breaking through these barriers.~

Is it binding to the old ground?
Is it climbing up the steep sound?
I cannot heal this rupture
Out grows the vine…

The secret has to see the light of day
Before the rising waters wash the seed away

Words are bent and hieroglyphic
Air is ringing silent missives
A thousand pounds push inward
The cracks grow fine…

The secret has to see the light of day
Before the rising waters wash the seed away

Pronounced “Neh-grah,” translation: dark lady, or beloved.

~As part of the University of Texas Andean Ensemble and the Andean Ensemble at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, I learned Peruvian huaynos that told devastating tales of lost love.  Several stories reminded me of the West Virginia song “Sugar Babe,” and I combined the melodies and images into this banjo tune.~

Negra, negra,
Quién ve la cuna, quién da la canción,
Con quién amaneces si no puedo estar?

Llegó un afuerino, robó el corazón,
De mi prenda amada, de mi ilusión.

Ando errando este mundo al revés,
No grites mi nombre si lloras después.


My love, my love,
Who’ll rock that cradle, and who’ll sing my song?
Who’ll lay beside you the day I am gone?

A stranger came along, and stole the heart
Of my beloved, of my dream

I roam a world turned upside down
Don’t call me back, if you start to cry

Ends of the Earth

~When I write slow ballads, I am always thinking of cantores a lo divino in Chile. The high, aching beauty of their voices, and the devotion that is palpable in the sinuous melodies they sing at all-night vigils to a saint, or a loved one who has passed.~

You’ll remember when I said
I would go to the ends of the earth to mend
The smallest fray with golden thread
And dress you and set you on your path again…

To trails of words, spiraling high
On the glimmering peak, maybe there you’ll find
A place to rest or a sign from above
Every last thing you need is down here with the ones you love.

A patchwork quilt is my beating heart
And a weight’s bearing down on the most fragile part
My deepest wish, deeper than the sea,
Is something fortune withholds from me.
And the storm broke through like a river from the sky,
Striking the pavement, tearing my eye.
I’m glad for the rain, as I’m glad for the sun,
As I’m glad for the battles that I have not won.

Let me lean on you, as you lean on me.
When the future is cloudy, we clearly see
Happiness is not one of a kind
It’s the ease that takes me away when your hand’s in mine.

Polo Margariteño (traditional, Venezuela)
Pronounced “Poh-loh-mar-ga-ree-teh-nyo,” translation: polo (a genre/rhythm) from the

~This beloved Venezuelan song, a golpe, is an anthem to music for me. I have sung it for years, and bits of metaphor seem to have broken off and sprouted new songs, like Summer Heat.~

El cantar tiene sentido, entendimiento y razón,
La buena pronunciación y el instrumento al oído.

Mire ese lirio que el tiempo lo consume,
Y hay una fuente que lo hace florecer.
Tú eres el lirio, ay dame tu perfume
Yo soy la fuente, déjame correr.

La garza prisionera no canta cuál solía
cantar en el espacio y en el dormido mar.
Su canto entre cadenas es canto de agonía,
Porque te empeñas pués, señor, su canto en prolongar.

Qué hago yo solo en el campo?
Qué hago yo en el campo solo?
Yo no enamoro ni canto,
Yo no canto ni enamoro.


Song has sense, understanding and reason,
The well pronounced word and the instrument at your ear.

Look at this lily, slowly consumed by time,
And the stream that makes it bloom.
You are the lily, oh, give me your perfume.
I am the stream, let me run on.

The caged bird doesn’t sing like she used to
Across the wide sky and the sleeping ocean.
Her song in chains is a song of agony
Because you try to hold on to her music.

What am I doing alone in the country?
What am I doing in the country alone?
I do not sing or fall in love.
I do not fall in love or sing.

Summer Heat

Silver the stars and golden the moonlight,
In the tall green pine.
Deep in the dark and cool of the midnight hour,
I saw you shine.
I’ll be the stream, you be the flower, bright,
On the valley floor.
Lend me your sweetness, lend me your color,
Before I travel on.Can it be the moon has waxed and waned,
To draw you from me like she draws the path of each wave?
You’re like the fading summer heat,
And I will follow like the falling leaves.

When I am shaken, when I’m unsteady,
Or when my heart won’t keep still,
You’ll let me know that my feet are ready
To wear their way through the hills.

Silence stay with me, wrap me in quiet,
Here all alone, my eyes on the sky.
Put me in motion the minute I’m tired.
If the cage bars break, I’ll be the first to fly.


Beautiful Dress

I have these hours to dream of you
The lonesome road, I thought I knew
Beneath the sky, shining bright blue
I have these hours to dream of you

Lead me back to your eyes again
Oh silver road, my traveling friend
My heart would burst from the love that’s within
Lead me back to your eyes again

You make me want to wear a beautiful dress
You make me want to dance when the music ends
You make me want to smile upon my friends
I want to feel the touch of your healing hands
Want to be the teardrop on your face
Want to move with a slow and simple grace
I want to be the end of the long, long race
I want you

High in the night, from a starry throne
The heavens call sweet and low
Can all the angels see in my soul
High in the night, from a starry throne


Pajarito en Sol
Pronounced “Pa-ha-ree-toh-ehn-sohl,” translation: little bird in the key of G.

~The poetry of Henry Martínez, set to a traditional Venezuelan melody, compares the intensity of love to a force of nature that flows through this story of obsession and betrayal.~

Después de un viento bandido te fue llevando en volandas,
Por la savana quedé como palomita
Cantando sola en la rama.
Recordando que mis flores se abrieron por tu llegada,
Para perfumar el aire, vida mía,
Tu mala crianza, y tus ganas.
Luego de tanto esperarte horas, días, y semanas,
Llegaste anoche y te fuiste, pajarito,
Temprano en la madrugada.
Pareciéndote al lucero que se esfuma en la mañana…

Como el río que culebrea entre el estero y la mata,
Como la baba que cambia, continuamente de playa,
Como el turpial realengo que no soporta una jaula,
Como el pavón de los caños que busca las nuevas aguas,
Como el gaván que no habita, pajarito,
Dos veces la misma palma,
Para quebrar el fastidio y alegre llevar el alma,
Y así te fuiste en silencion vagabundo,
Dejándome cuál guayaba,
Colgando de una ramita, madurita y picoteada.

Indio embustero y maluco porque dejaste mi casa?
Si yo te di todo el cariño y lo dulce que guardé desde muchacha.
Pa’ regalérselo un día a áquel que se lo ganara,
Y apareciste un tarde, vida mía,
Austero y sin alaracas,
En una fiesta de pueblo con arpa, cuatro y maracas.
Primero te vi el sombrero, pajarito,
Después el porte y la cara.
Nacido en el bajo Apure y levantado en Achaguas…

Traías llenas las alforjas de amores y batallas,
De esperanzas y horizontes, de esquimeras y mañanas.
Me miraste becerreao, para no darme importancia,
Pero el veneno en mis ojos, te llegó como una lanza,
Y entre besos prometiste esa tarde, que venías y te quedabas,
Pero me cumpliste a medias, pués te viniste y me dejaste,
Mirando el cielo del cuarto, pajarito,
En celo, y abandonada,
Preguntándome qué haría con mi braza y media cama.

After the wind whisked you away like a bandit
I was like a little dove of the savanna singing alone on the branch,
Remembering that my flowers bloomed for your arrival,
Your rude ways, and your desires.
After waiting so long, for hours, days and weeks,
You came last night, and left again in the early dawn, little bird,
Like a bright star that vanishes with the morning…

Like the river that winds
Between the lake and the thicket
Like the oriole that cannot stand the cage
Like pheasant that looks for new waters
Like the wild bird that does not visit the same palm twice,
That flees care, and runs away with a light heart.
Just like this you left me in silence, vagabond,
Like a fruit on the vine, ripened and spoiled.

Deceptive and wicked man, why did you leave my home?
Didn’t I give you all the love and sweetness
That I guarded since I was young,
To one day give to the one who would win me?
And you appeared one day, austere and without fanfare,
In a celebration of the town, with harp, cuatro and maracas.
First, I saw your hat, then your shape and your face.
Born in low Apure and raised in Achaguas…

You brought you bags filled with love and battles,
With hopes and horizons, with tricks and tomorrows.
You tried to disregard me, to ignore me,
But the venom in my eyes pierced you like a lance,
And between kisses you promised that evening,
That you would come and stay,
But you fulfilled only half of the promise.
You came and left me, staring at the ceiling of my room, little bird,
Impassioned and abandoned,
Wondering what I would do with this empty bed.

Little Angel (in the style of a traditional Chilean tonada)

~My guitarrón teachers, Chosto Ulloa and Santos Rubio, always sang for the “angelitos” in their community: the children who passed away at a very young age and became little angels who could protect their families. They both told stories of meeting these angels in their dreams, as grown children in heaven. We lost both Don Chosto and Santos recently, and I wrote this song thinking of their dreams, and wondering whether they, along with Violeta Parra, now protect us from above with the angelitos.~

Is she watching, little angel,
From your distant, clouded cradle?
Treasure that the sky is holding,
See the way the water’s rolling,
From the wisest men of verses,
To the song my hand rehearses.
Does she see us, small and fragile?
Is she watching, little angel?

Volver a los 17 (Chile: melody and lyrics by Violeta Parra)

~This is one of the first songs I heard in Chile, one that captured my ear and never let go. I sing it with my partner in song, Marcia Moreno, from Santa Cruz, Chile.~

Volver a los diecisiete, después de vivir un siglo,
Es como descifrar signos sin ser sabio competente.
Volver a ser de repente tan frágil como un Segundo,
Volver a sentir profundo como un niño frente a Dios.
Eso es lo que siento yo, en este instante fecundo.

Se van enredando enredando, como en el muro la hiedra,
Y va brotando, brotando, como el musguito en la piedra,
Como el musguito en la piedra, ay, sí, sí, sí.

Mi paso retrocedido cuando el de ustedes avanza.
El arco de las alianzas ha pentrado en mi nido
Con todo su colorido se ha paseado por mis venas,
Y hasta las duras cadenas con qué nos ata el destino,
Es como un diamante fino que alumbra mi alma serena.


Lo que puede el sentimiento, no lo ha podido el saber,
Ni el más claro proceder, ni el más ancho pensamiento.
Todo lo cambia el momento, cuál mago condescendiente,
Nos aleja dulcemente de rencores y violencias.
Sólo el amor con su ciencia, nos vuelve tan inocentes.


De par en par la ventana, se abrió como por encanto.
Entró el amor con su manto como una tibia mañana.
Al son de su bella diana, hizo brotar el jazmín,
Volando cuál serafin, al cielo le puso arete,
Y mis años en diecisiente, los convirtió el querubín.


To return to seventeen, after living a century,
Is like deciphering ancient symbols, without the proper knowledge.
To suddenly feel again, as fragile as a second,
To once again feel deeply, like a child before God.
This is what I feel in this fertile moment.

It winds and winds like the ivy across the wall.
It grows and grows like the moss across the rock.
Like the moss across the rock, oh yes…

My step that retreats as yours advances
The arc of the alliances has entered my nest
With all its color, circling through my veins,
Even along the hard chains that tie us to destiny,
It is like a precious diamond that shines in my soul so calm.

What love has achieved, knowledge has not.
Neither the best laid plan, nor the greatest thought.
The moment, like a benevolent mage, can change everything,
Can whisk us away from violence and bitterness.
Only the science of love can make us so innocent again.
The window opened wide, as if by some spell,
Love entered with its cloak, like a warm morning,
At the sound of its sweet call, the jasmine bloomed,
Soaring like an angel, drawing a circle in the sky,
And turning my many years back to seventeen.


Crooked Rung

My eyes are golden rings,
My blood is scarlet red,
I cannot find the words to slow
the fire that’s in my head.

I feel my mother’s fear,
I heard her sister pray.
I watched her daughters as they saw
The whole world slip away.

For now I choose to wait,
Though distant bells may toll,
And I must take a gamble
just to keep my body whole.

I’m loathe to share the pain,
Of something so, so small.
There’s no resounding trumpet here
To say the battle’s on.

It’s just a picture box.
It’s just a drop of blood.
It’s just a tiny ladder
With a crooked rung.

Cinco Veces (in the style of a Chilean tonada)

~This song is an answer to the question I am often asked: how many times have I been to Chile?  I wrote it as the plane took off from Santiago after my last visit, envying the sun as it set over the mountains, but also ready to return home.~

Me preguntan cuántas veces,
Cuántas veces he venido,
Cuántas veces por el cielo he subido.

Mares, ríos y la sierra,
La sierra también la palma,
Cinco veces que yo he visto, cinco heridas tiene el alma

Sol dorado de la altura,
De la altura va bajando.
Va bajando hacia mi tierra, hacia mi tierra y mi amado.


They ask me how many times,
How many times have I come here,
How many times have I risen through the sky.

Seas, rivers and mountains,
The mountains and the palm tree,
Five times I have seen them, five times have I been torn away.

Golden sun from the heights,
From the heights you draw close,
You draw close to my land, to my land and my love.