The Veery

     I never know where a teacher will come from. 

     There are teachers that are acclaimed for their teachings; you can read their books or go to their church or attend their weekend workshops. Some of these teachers are only the skin of a balloon, and need the attention of their students to inflate them.
     Others, I believe, still see themselves as students, even as their way of being in the world attracts followers. Teachings flow into and out of them like water spilling from one pool to the next in a waterfall, constantly filling and emptying, student-as-teacher-as-student. These teachers may also be acclaimed, or one might be the person you keep running into at the grocery store.

     My most recent teacher was a bird.

     A Veery is a woodland thrush, a robin-sized brown bird that is known not for its looks but for the unusual way it sings. It is a polyphonic singer. This means that the Veery can literally sing with two voices simultaneously. It uses both sides of its syrinx (its voicebox), and it can control each separately. To me, the Veery's two-voiced song is neither harmonious nor melodic, but nonetheless to hear it echoing out of the forest is thrilling.

     I heard the Veery sing the day before Meg left for the summer. I had just returned from watching my nephew play Little League baseball, and the slowness and sunshine of the rising summer was in me. But so was the force of emptiness that was coming: after Meg left, I had only ten days before Anna and Andrew would leave. Then, the house would be still. That feeling I loved and longed for – quiet, slowness – was also the thing I dreaded. My heart pumped two different songs simultaneously, and they stuck in my throat.
     I stopped writing. I just couldn't “find time”. The words weren't there, bubbling up like they usually are. I could feel confusion in my heart, and an aching at not being able to give it voice. But the Veery's song stayed with me, and I knew there was some wisdom in it, and that when the quiet came, I could tease out the strands and finally write the song that would free my voice.
     In the abrupt quiet on the afternoon that Andrew and Anna left, I took a long walk in the drizzle. I brought my i-thing that records voice memos. As I walked, the unformed feelings of the Veery's song in me began to take shape, and I recorded them line by line. I knew I had captured the twin-voiced song by the time I returned home, and felt released. But when I sat down to transcribe the song into a poem, I found that somehow I had inadvertently deleted the recording. I had nothing.

     Here it is, the thing that is finally coming clear to me: it's not about the song, it's about the singing. My teacher, the Veery, does not hold onto her song. She sings it, the whole polyphonic inharmonious cascade of it, and it's gone. And then she sings another one. I have so many songs in my heart that trying to put order on them, words to them, meaning around them, threatens to stopper my voice. My mind gets in the way – but that's not where the song comes from. Sing first; keep singing; and then write. It may not always make sense, but the Veery has opened me to the polyphonic voices of my own heart.
The recording of the Veery is by Andrew Spencer, and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.  For more information: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/