Nelson Gray's 7 monologues for the

SONGBIRD 

ORATORIO

1

Who understands the language of birds?
Who remembers
In the half-light of the pre-dawn morning
The boy-girl waking
the sounds of wings
thrumming in the inner ear
The blood red
autumn
green sun deafening all human sounds
All for a moment’s hush
For a faint far off
Humming of wings
Trilled labyrinths
Inexplicable Song

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2

I’m close—very close. After all the mistakes and misapprehensions, after all the doubts and all the derision from the skeptics and cynics among my colleagues, now, finally, I know, I’m certain, I’m within a fingernail’s grasp of it: the key that will unlock the code of their communications. The language of the birds.

No, I’m not talking about the hackneyed excuses for meaning espoused by those so-called philosophers—the blind and blinkered withered souls that would reduce these intricate articulations to strictly instinctual demands. Territorial cries? Mating calls? Do you think I’ve been tracking these sounds for so long to confirm something so inconsequential?

On the contrary. For if we can understand how the calls inter-relate, how they cross-reference from species to species, if we can uncover the deeply embedded structures underlying the language of birds, we can begin to unravel the threads of a mystery revealing insights—not just about these avian friends of ours—but about every creature that creeps, slithers, crawls, flies and walks . . . on this throbbing ball of mud we call the earth.

Oh there’s meaning in their songs all right. And if my readings are correct, the veneer of our human understanding is about to be peeled away to reveal a domain of wisdom more refined than all the computer-stored information of the last twenty-five centuries.

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3

I trusted too much in human language. What a ridiculous oversight! Oh yes, we now know that dolphins, by putting balls in hoops, can demonstrate the limited syntax of our communications . . . but is there one human yet who has even begun to fathom the most rudimentary elements of dolphin language?

You see my mistake? For years I’ve been attempting to translate the songs of birds into human language when what I should have been doing is converting our human speech into the expansive language of birds.

In the language of birds there are no subjects or objects, no distance between the singer and the song. You can’t fix the meanings of their calls, as if they were little machines: putting a stranglehold on the sounds and squeezing out every drop of logic; trying to control the outcome of the experiment just to prove the hypothesis; reading things into the songs; hearing what you want to hear; creating connections that were never there . . .

No. Forget useful—forget want. Understanding the language of birds demands an irrational discipline, demands listening without the tyranny of meaning, without the rigid toy soldiers of reason firing their puny cannons of syntax:
Subject. Object. Predicate. Fire.
Punctuate. Modify. Fire.
Noun. Verb. Fire. Fire.
Fire. Fire. Fire. Fire. . .
Until it’s all finished. All complete.
Until the story’s ended, and the book is closed,
And not another sound is uttered--
Not a cry
Not a song . . .

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4

The Virtual Bird!
From Photoshop Digital Imaging
To Off-Screen Life-Size holographic Re-creation
Click Image to select Species. Over 500 to choose from:
Sparrow, thrush, nuthatch wren—or, if you prefer, click on one of our rapidly expanding
Extinct species for a completely creative scenario.
Click SongFile to append Sound. Choose morning calls or evening calls
Territorial, distress, or mating cries.
Click Format to select Eco-system:
1) Ancient un-logged cedar giants from British Columbia
2) South American rainforest canopy, untouched and completely intact
3) Extremely rare wetland habitat, perfectly preserved and pristine-glistening
4) Bright blue ozone-restored sky, clear as a bell, no exhaust fumes and—just for contrast—some high, white, creampuff-marshmallow-cumulous clouds
Digital Ecology at your Fingertips
Infinite pixels
Surround sound
Trillions and trillions and trillions of colours—
Your own virtual Cyber-bird
First pixel to the right and straight on till morning . . .
Perfect.

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5

There is an hour in the autumn, before the day descends into darkness,
A time at the end of summer, to ready oneself for the night, for the cold, for the change, for the journey.
This is the time. This is the hour.
And it’s a journey you know already. For it’s an old knowing.
Without ever having gone through it, you know,
It will never be the same
Even if it’s not the first time, even if it’s happened before.
The gathering winds, the quickening blood: the light catches the underside of the branches and turns the sky a pale, thin blue.
Colours fade. The hum subsides. Storm clouds darken. Shadows rise.
But should you attempt to put off your departure
To huddle inside your bushes and hide,
The winds and the storms and the changing light
Will shiver in your sleep tonight

Wake up
It’s time to go

Now
And not a second longer
Now
NOW
NOW

GO!

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6

Arms – Wings
Eyes – Words
Fingertip –wingtips
Initial the air
Fingers are beaks – feathers clothes
Claws toenails – pinions bones
Perch, balance - Balance, stand
Mate – migrate
Locate – return . . .
Earth - sky
Sky – ground
Earth – place
birth – voice.
Bird - voice – woman
man
And you turn and turn until you return
To a place so bright you can barely remember
And wet and sticky you can only be
The light looking out and the light looking in
And the sounds sounding inside and sounding out
And you cannot speak neither beauty nor fear
And you have no words for the singing you hear
And you squirm in a dream of touch and tremble . . .
And none of this is not strange.

chicadee-in_flight.png

7

I’m ready now.
I’m awake. I’m clean.
I’ve turned off all the machines.
Everything is still here.
The clock has stopped and there’s not a sound.


(the sound of fluttering wings)
So. You’ve come.
Yes. Good.
I knew you would.
I heard you singing before I was born.
Yesterday you were sounds in water
Tomorrow sounds in the trees
I know you now –
I hear who you are
Grandmother Crow –
Great-grandfather Swallow.