There are birdsongs that I could arrange along thick musical staffs, were I capable of such a thing. I do not sit at a grand piano or strum on a Spanish guitar. I do not save my breath for a clarinet, at least not anymore. I failed even the recorder its glory, an instrument as melodious as a cockatoo’s screech. Instead, I stand armed with the trills of robins, the coos of mourning doves, the distinct cries stolen from remote rainforests and wetlands for my aviary of Audubon plush waterfowl to recite. Such voices belong in the language of treble clefs, half notes, whole notes, but I am becoming fluent only in bird, blind to the gestures of music. Sometimes I wish the foreign symbols on sheet music were coarsely raised so that I could treat them like braille, but for now I stick with my field guides and binoculars. I make not a sound, and still there is a harmony to just listening and looking on.
I regularly remind myself that my writing process lacks cadence. I have no metronome for my words to march to, and even if I had, they would probably scatter at even a scare of lost motivation. I arrange stylistic fanfares, turn humble burials into lengthy funeral processions, and urge ordinary sunsets to be endless skies in some afterlife. Once I wrote a poem to a friend, speaking confidently into each stanza, but my voice echoed in its mightiness and then faded out. In poetry, it is supposed to be okay to remain silent because I can pantomime my way through every moment and emotion with just the right word choice. But what if I jump when I should dance? What if I go boasting when I should be mourning?
There is a birdcall or song for everything, each one composed to use instinct as a kind of musical stave. When it is time to call in a mate’s heart, the goldfinch knows just the melody to play. Baby robins lament their hunger to their faraway mother. Migrating Canada Geese honk to one another of their progress, even within their own organized v. Then there are the masters of pantomime: the quail with an impatient swish of its tail feather, the penguin wandering anxiously from shore to nest, and the frightened pigeon with feathers ruffling on its back. The golden-collared manakin flirts through songless dance, agile and precise, and the desired mate knows just how to respond—with a timid hop forward for a better look, or a flash of the wings, away.
Eventually, I hope to challenge my memory to bird silhouettes, learn how to tell the weightlessness of a house sparrow’s shadow from that of a house finch. Maybe then I can teach myself that a chickadee’s stature is a chickadee’s stature, not a cardinal’s or a bald eagle’s, so that I can write about it as such.
Melina Papadopoulos is currently an undergraduate college student from Northeastern Ohio and has six lovely birds. Her work has appeared in Apt Online, Chocorua Review, Bluestem Magazine, among others. As obvious as it may be, she is an aspiring ornithologist.