One of the worst things in the world is when I decide that it is now— this instant— a perfect time to sing.
The song is “Cuckoo.” The song is warm, short and sweet. Heated honey roasted peanut butter in a warm bowl. It is solitary. As it plays, nostalgia boils inside my body, caves away. Nostalgia leaves my body as a thin orange gas.
The spirit was something else burnt off moments ago, back in the fifth or sixth second. These weirdly varied freezing and boiling points are too impossibly many to remember. Important things are shunned to the ethers without our foreknowledge. Only in hindsight we boot ourselves in the hides.
Benjamin Britten conducts himself a murmuration of children. I am one of the children with a shitty voice. Let’s be polite, for once, and call it shoddy instead.
What, really, is this all about?
This, thus far, is foreground. This, thus far, is ambiance in which one might be able to say thank you. This ambiance, maybe, made of cotton, of residual nostalgia, of pineapple and thyme in cooled spring water, might give us permission to thank everybody who has touched us with love, with support. Teachers, friends, and family. Colleagues and superiors. Strangers and even stranger. Community. Even when solitude appears to be all-encompassing, the singer is in close proximity to infinite things.
Sometimes we must light a candle to acknowledge community. Sometimes there needs to be mistletoe to rally in solidarity. Sometimes there is great blankness in a dark bar where there are no answers to simple yes or no questions. Mirrors that reflect far too much. And then there are twelve days sober. Afterward and before, there is a longing to seal every conversation into a Ziploc bag and horde them until the building collapses under the weight of the conversations of a thousand lives, ten thousand connections.
The anvil screams as it bounds through the atmosphere. We only wait for its quaking impact with the earth. We are not involved when the court drops the anvil. We wait together.
Listen again to the song—its small ninety-six second span. Listen to the crushed notes, my word, the awful way I sing it:
what do you do?
in april, i open my bill.
in may, i sing night and day.
in june, i change my tune.
in july, far, far i fly…
in august, away!
The voice is solitary. The voice is alone. It is trained, but unconvinced of its power, its invention. The voice lacks confidence. The voice wishes to bask in the warmth of encouragement, but doesn’t believe it deserves encouragement when it comes. The voice chokes itself. It is afraid of a not-so-bad review. It is so afraid of being denied flight. It is a small fire clambering for air, for a greater light.
A woman once told me to land the helicopter when I write essays. Stop hovering over the terrain to point out the pointless. Dig your knees into the earth, scrape away the topsoil, suck it in, take a bite and pin down the one thing. Again, I refuse to listen. I listen to my own shoddy voice instead. There are confused pronouns amongst the song, aren’t there? I’s and you’s. We’s and they. I should have listened more closely because I have forgotten—as I’m sure have you— who and what this is about.
Sometimes it is magic when somebody pulls you, your work, your love, your voice out of the garbage— the crinkled paper salvaged, the body saved, the fire extinguished. There is more nostalgia left than I thought within this sentimentalism, this song. Sometimes it is magic when the vocal instructor grabs you by the tongue, holds your bone-white muscle with a paper towel and begs you to let go. This is how you sing. Finally, forgive yourself— if only for a moment.
I thank the people who hoist me. I thank the people who give me courage. I thank Krissy. I thank Kevin, Jon, Vincent, and Jon. Nancy and Melissa. I thank M.G. and Nicole. I thank Rimas, Dana and Bryanna. I thank Christie and Roberto. I thank my Mother. I thank those of whom I have carelessly forgotten. But to them, I sing.
The cuckoo is a private voice. It is upturned and solitary. In April, he opens his bill.
The members of the choir come in together as an immense body—one of great mass, one of unimaginable beauty. It is in these small voices that there is hugeness. It is the small voice to my left that is now larger because of my efforts. It is made of steel and diamond. The voices to my front, back, and left plant the seeds of a wildflower grove. It is my once sheepish, embarrassed, voice that holds a roof aloft, a roof that allows somebody to sit upon it and peer over strict structures. It allows her to see what is past the boding, to the sunset that sings back while she sings.
We thank each other while we sing. Maybe, if it isn’t too much to bear, we grab for each other’s hands and hold on while the conductor waves his wand. Maybe, since it is July, we will fly.
Maybe, we will say to hell with the fear and, in August, fly far together. Mustn’t we?