The most important things are all things I don’t have words for. The way robins appear one morning, where there were no robins the night before, and what this does to a human throat. The way a redwing blackbird calls, kind of like a pipe of blown glass, clipped, hitting a high and then a lower note on a major key that cuts through the air with the strangeness of a lullaby, sung to a grown person. And what that does to time, taking the grown person and collapsing all of her life accordian style to a dime sized button, so that there is a moment when the blackbird sang, and she was seven, and then there is the moment it sang today, when she is thirty three and walking, sleepily. I don’t have adequate words for the mud on my shoes.
I appeared here one day like a robin. Suddenly was where I hadn’t been before, but was once, and without a narrative or a stamped passport or an explination as to where I’d been nor why I was back. The intervening years too cloudy with contradiction and failure and absurd stories involving hangovers and foriegn countries to be available to language or sense; a bastardized stew of philosophy, political science, and foodstamps. I heard a poet speak about memory, once; he talked of how one day, nearing forty, it was as if his eyes opened up, and the whole of his life from childhood on were suddenly available to him, to write about, think about, understand, in a way that hadn’t been there before. Once, at a dance where I met the locals of this small place, gripping a bottle of carbonated water with an alcoholic’s fingers, someone asked me what I was doing here; how in the world I’d ended up in Northfield, Minnesota.
“I’m an alcoholic”, was the only thing I had to say. I meant, of course, that I’m an alcoholic, I had made a terrible mess of things, and in coming to I ended up in Northfield, licking wounds, trying to stand still until the ground firmed up, waiting for dust to settle. Northfield has no claim on me. And I have no reason to have happened on Northfield. We’re an odd couple. Struggling with intimacy.
Years ago, a friend was trying to help me get through a crisis. I had a double life. One that I spoke of, and one I didn’t. He appeared at my apartment one morning without calling, happening to be in my neighborhood. He found me hungover and covered with bruises, a black eye that covered the left side of my head. Why didn’t you tell me? he kept asking.
I tried to explain to him how I was a failed human being. How I could never have a ‘normal’ relationship, because if I were honest about who I was and what I’d done, the narrative itself would push me away from the other person. With each confession, I said, I’d be dropping a meteor into the smooth plain of the relationship. Who could cope with a girl who said “I was raped, once. And then again. And then a seventh time, last night. I had a child in Paris and I named him Coal but he doesn’t speak my language and probably doesn’t know my name. Once, I went to prison. Once, I took a man’s wad of dollars and gave him what he asked for. And then I did it again. Once, usually, I black out a few hours before I actually fall asleep, and I don’t know what happens in those hours. Tell me, I said, how I was supposed to be honest with you. Tell me how could a human being ever really love that?
With sobriety, we come to a place where our absurd histories are suddenly normal, perfectly human. They are available to us, as memory, as lesson, as proof, in a way that secrets never could be. Birds don’t have those kinds of memories, people do. I am not an alien, a sinner, nor a story. I’m just a girl.
But that doesn’t really explain why the redwinged blackbird, piping, should do a funny thing to my throat.