in the park, he tells me a few patient scientists are learning
the language of birds. they’re writing out steps, they’re procedurizing,
they’re making a formula of the air between our ears. they’re
cracking it. you can do it too, he says, i mean anyone
can. you have to start by finding a pair, they say, he says. you need
to be still, you need to wait, you need to return again and again
even when you don’t want it. listen to the way they word-dance
with one another, listen to their harmonies of need. unless of course,
he says, they’re not in love but at war, you know, not literal war,
but animosity. a battle cry can sound so much like wanting.
a confession and a caution just a quarter-note apart. with the males, he says,
you can tell they’ve found a mate by how much they sing. he doesn’t tell me
whether love is quieter or louder than survival, and i’ve never known
the difference. a cloud blows in, and his eyes are the air after a bomb.
above us, crows move in arrhythmia. below us, the ground is a cemetery
of words a man has told a woman. in the grass by his wrist, a robin
approaches, inspects, flies away screaming. a greeting, i say.
a warning, he says. and we kiss - or break something, i don’t remember -
and the breeze around us stings the way only words can
The idea of deciphering birdsong into digestible phrases is something that has fascinated me since I first heard of it. To me, it speaks to the way we long to understand every conceivable part of the world, even the parts of it that - arguably - we were never supposed to understand in the first place. There is, maybe, a desperate ornithologist in all of us, bending over backwards searching for meaning. The speaker of “birdspeak” has not yet learned to pay close attention to what matters - she experiences her stories secondhand and listens uncritically - but she is determined to make it all mean something. That need makes her give too much weight to the wrong things, and not enough to the right ones. The world demands that our attention be everywhere at once, and in exchange, we demand that meaning be everywhere at once. Maybe, just maybe, neither of these demands needs to be entirely met. Maybe some things, after all, are better left undeciphered.