Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview


Through here, she said. Inside the chapel were narrow concrete stairs, which we climbed to the first landing. She had presented this as a secret, which I had promised to keep. Stop, she said. Sing, she said. I can’t, I said. Anything, she said, so I started in on “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” The sound wasn’t an echo but a softening and a carrying as if my voice were wind and the walls had held it for a hundred years at last releasing it slowly, like blood into water. I imagined I did not exist, that the sound was always loose, it was my imagination that I had made it myself. Climb higher, she said, so we did. I found her utter honesty, her abrupt childlike attentions, intriguing. We made a flute of the stairwell or some instrument not yet invented that opens the pores and makes singers of us. I was a child who could sing anything, the voice something like a headstone, substance standing for lack of it. One step followed another, summer came, the coats pushed back in the closet, flowers bloomed, first the buttercups, then hyacinths, tulips, and finally the fierce daylilies one after the other as if we were moving from a very low place to a higher one which could easily be explained by the transit of the sun, or rather, the earth’s relation to it. It was impossible to form any judgment, which I recognized as love, that I loved her better than most in some secret way. My voice came out in those colors and we sang “Tell Me Why,” “Old Man River,” the few whole songs I could remember, but she knew them all, being a singer. Still, I was not embarrassed, being a child with few moral judgments sitting on the spillway at church camp with maybe eighty percent of my life still strung out somewhere glittering, encased in some twilit dawn. Nothing else, except we agreed to bring music next time, to have more words, the way things go, toward professionalism, toward a gradation the way water is deviated down a spillway stone by stone so as not to overwhelm the landscape, so much turbulence eased toward a reconfiguration that seems to carry more frankness into the Gulf. A story. Something like a gemstone made of compression, that can only shatter if compressed further, there being a precise degree that shines.  

   The Art of Composition

return to top