Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Singing

I heard a story from a night bird,
Never you mind which one. Imagine
You can hear one singing. That’s the one.

The night bird sang to me at wolf hour,
Just past full moon on a summer night
In the village. Never mind which one.

Some people still live in villages.
Imagine a village. That’s the one.
It was, in any case, too early

For a bird to be singing. Birds know
Better than to sing in the small hours,
Especially on a moonlit night.

There’s always the risk of getting caught
Square in a shaft of uncanny light
And having your song turn into words.

But this bird wanted its story heard.
So now comes the hard part—retelling
This story in the way it was sung.

Birds don’t value the same tales as you.
They have a different psychology.
For a bird, an exciting story

Follows the trajectory of day.
Characters can be nonexistent.
Heroic protagonists are rare.

But this bird had a promise to keep,
To sing the story of its promise
And by, singing it in words, keep it.

There was a morning that was splendid,
And we had all joined voice to meet dawn,
When a strange singer joined the chorus.

Imagine the voice of a raven
If a raven could truly sing songs—
A cross between the calliope

Antics of a tüï and the trills
Of a mockingbird raised by finches.
An odd song, and we paused to listen.

The new bird was not greeting the day
Or boasting how lovely its song was
By demonstrating through its boasting.

It was lamenting being a bird.
It cried that it had been human once
And was a bird because of a curse.

It went on and on about itself,
Not boasting, not in true relation
To the morning, just self-pitying

And singing how it hated being
A bird. We’d never heard such a thing—
Not as song, as condition, as bird.

Finally it stopped, and we went on.
The next morning, the same thing happened.
The next morning, the same thing happened.

On the third morning we screamed at it,
Instead of pausing for its lament.
None of us could see it, so we screamed

In the direction the song came from.
Cut it out! Why don’t you greet the day?
Silence. Then a ravenish chortle,

Then the low, dark, self-pitying croon—
Because I am not a bird. I am
A human cursed to be like a bird.

This was ridiculous. It’s no curse
To be a bird. It occurred to us,
Nonetheless, for it to ever stop,

We might have to lift this so-called curse.
Several of us asked what we could do.
The singing raven—let’s call it that,

Given it stayed unseen, no offense
Meant to ravens—narrated its tale,
Low in a throaty but tootling voice,

Singing, of course. And a most human
Tale it was, as well. Many actions,
Many good and wicked characters,

Sudden developments, constrictions,
Relaxations, and an imp. The imp
Seemed to be the most important thing,

Like the twilights are in a bird’s song.
It seems this singing raven had been
A soulless man who wanted a soul

And the imp had given him one, but
In exchange for him serving the imp
As a familiar, something like that.

At first he could be himself by day
And only this invisible bird
At night, but then he tried to escape

And take his soul, and the imp cursed him.
Now he was this voice that was singing
Like a raven, if ravens could sing.

It sounded stupid and pathetic
Nonsense to us, but we’re not human.
We sang back, How is your curse reversed?

Only by death or by singing it
To a human who can understand.
I sing and I sing. No one heeds me.

Well, you have to sing just the right time,
In the right kind of moonlight, just so,
And to a solitary human,

We explained with our cacophony.
We’ll tell you how! Sadly, we found out,
The next full moon, there was a problem.

Since this bird-like, singing, human thing
Was also invisible, it meant
Its song could not transform for humans

Even with good illumination.
That imp had fashioned one clever curse,
Built not to be reversed easily.

But there had to be some other way.
That’s the rule with your human curses.
There’s always some way around the rule.

After much chorusing discussion,
We came to the conclusion that one
Of us could maybe reverse the spell

By singing in the moonlight with it.
In fact it’s been singing this whole time.
Haven’t you heard it singing with me?

The singing words stopped. I shook my head.
I heard no bird. Saw no new person.
Then the night bird gave a final trill

As the moon sank into fresh twilight.
You’re it! sang the bird. You’re it! You’re it!
I’ve never heard that bird singing since.

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