Imagine a song, she said, that gives voice to people’s anger. These weren’t her actual words. The anger precedes the song, she continued, but the song precedes the people, the people are back-formed from their singing, which socialises feeling, expands the domain of the feelable. The voice must be sung into existence, so song precedes speech, clears the ground for it. Then how are we speaking now, I asked, although not in those words. We aren’t, she responded. Or we are, but only about whether one should take her cat to the vet in a pandemic, if I should form a pod with my neighbours, if mangoes are stone fruit. A people’s voice isn’t speaking through us. I pulled a handful of grass from the earth, which left the earth with almost no resistance. We’re just talking, she continued, which isn’t really speaking; talk precedes the song that makes speech possible. But we can talk about singing, we can describe the song and its conditions, sitting on our blankets in Fort Greene park, the taped-off police cruiser still smouldering nearby, dragonflies mating aloft, in the humid air above us. Can the song be talked into existence, I asked, I wanted to ask, just as I wanted the grass to resist more, to cling more passionately to the earth. The stems are hollow except at the nodes. They have evolved to withstand trampling and storms. I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, the poet wrote, which is neither speech nor singing, but a grassy area between them, cordoned off by cops. (Strange how ‘poet’ and ‘cop’ are anagrams.) Agitated starlings had gathered in the trees. Let’s think up some new collective nouns, she didn’t say. An agitation of starlings. A bevy, a herd, a game, a flight, a pod, a murder of people with stone voices, pinned to the ground of experience, the ethical ground. In that sense throwing stones is close to singing when you shatter glass, which is made by heating grass into a liquid, and the goal of song is to liquify things, the singer most of all. When she sings, she can’t pull the song back out, and when she flees, she leaves behind parts of her digestive tract, muscles, nerves; you can hear that sorrowful foreknowledge in the song. Smoke masks pheromones so the keeper can access the hive (strange that ‘song’ and ‘smoke’ are homophones), but even a dead singer can sing, even a singer a scrub jay has decapitated will sing if you step on it.
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