“I am a merry-go-round mannikin yanked by the pole at the top of my head and tossed off the wheel. My pole goes into the soft ground. I see the whirling stars beneath my chin. I hear that foolish bird, the ancient one, swallow the music box when a lesser god tossed it out of an airplane like a pop bottle into the jungle.”—By Anita Sullivan
The Highest Cauldron
By Anita Sullivan
Editor’s Note: This essay first appeared in Weekly Hubris on 8 August 2015.
EUGENE Oregon—(Weekly Hubris)—1 September 2022—Tell me, when the local forest thrushes look about themselves in order to assemble and inhabit each next segment of reality, does this familiar gesture, repeated so often during their evening singing time, does it cause the intervals of quiet that occur around the folded feathers of them?
Each bird in its territory sings by note into phrase, by phrase into measure, and by measure into the fullness of an improvised fractal composition. How do they stay sane enough to continue, without knowing they are unique among birds, that they are precisely splitting each new outburst of melody as if it were a seed? Each evening for the month or two that they are moved to sing.
I am a merry-go-round mannikin yanked by the pole at the top of my head and tossed off the wheel. My pole goes into the soft ground. I see the whirling stars beneath my chin. I hear that foolish bird, the ancient one, swallow the music box when a lesser god tossed it out of an airplane like a pop bottle into the jungle. It never hit the ground. The First Thrush opened its beak—a whir and click—and the process was begun.
A little breeze passes through the pine woods and the Swainson’s Thrush flies to a closer branch. My vertical ear slowly fills again, like an oil lamp—the song, the beautiful.
Deep in the brown bird’s throat is a music box—yes, but it has long stopped, has flattened into silver sheets as thin as parchment through which might be seen the shape of the hands that strangled the bird from the inside out. Each evening not theme and variation, only theme. Beginning again. Listen!
The ancient bird’s voice darkened with blood and pain; for centuries it could not stop spewing clots as the music box slowly unwound, clearing its windpipe (another hollow bone).
Do they now—all the thrush tribe—centuries later, in the summer evenings, seek to split each new fragment of song as with beak to seed so that a song may be permitted, at the very least, to reappear (as its music box version would have done)? How can I, a human, remember this chained song in its entirety when it has not yet cooled, thickened, and slipped tear-shaped from the pipette throat—unless I assume it is beautiful for the wrong reason, as I have always done?
Note: Anita says of the second image above: “The music box photo I’m sending along (my usual dismal photography skills evident) is from a little piano music box I gave to my son when he was about 5 (he is now 40). One of the legs fell off and was replaced, as you can see, by a key, and a toothpick holds up the lid. It still plays “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” in a very tiny, scratchy voice, which is almost more than I can bear to listen to (nostalgia strikes again, wham!).”