Question 315 of 365: What should we sing and what must we speak?

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One of the few non-AP courses I took my senior year of high school was Drama. It was, quite simply, the perfect course for someone interested in the arts but with little time to do much about it. There was no homework. There were no projects to speak of. Occasionally, I had to memorize some lines, but for the most part I just had to show up every day and accomplish the acting task set forth. Our teacher knew what the course was and she didn’t pretend that it was a rigorous romp through Shakespeare. She gave everyone credit for showing up, and we were all thankful for her.

She did give us one project that has stuck with me for all of these years. She asked us to memorize the lyrics to a song and then say them out loud without the music. She made us turn those songs into poems and she made us turn ourselves into spoken word artists. She didn’t put any caveats on song choice, but she did ask that they have some meaning to us. This is the one that I chose:

We emerged from youth all wide-eyed like the rest.
Shedding skin faster than skin can grow, and armed with hammers,
feathers, blunt knives:
words, to meet and to define and to…
but you must know the same games that we played in dirt,
in dusty school yards has found a higher pitch and broader scale than we feared possible,
and someone must be picked last,
and one must bruise and one must fail.
And that still twitching bird was so deceived by a window,
so we eulogized fondly,
we dug deep and threw its elegant plumage and frantic black eyes in a hole,
and rushed out to kill something new,
so we could bury that too.
The first chapters of lives almost made us give up altogether.
Pushed towards tired forms of self immolation that seemed so original.
I must, we must never stop watching the sky with our hands in our pockets,
stop peering in windows when we know doors are shut.
Stop yelling small stories and bad jokes and sorrows,
and my voice will scratch to yell many more,
but before I spill the things I mean to hide away,
or gouge my eyes with platitudes of sentiment,
I’ll drown the urge for permanence and certainty;
crouch down and scrawl my name with yours in wet cement.

That last line didn’t need to be sung. It needed to be spoken. By me. I needed it in high school, just as I need it today. As much as I want everything to be permanent and certain. Just as I would like to sing and be free to know what beat comes next. I can’t. I must speak those words and feel their weight on my tongue.

I’ll drown the urge for permanence and certainty; crouch down and scrawl my name with yours in wet cement.

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