I’m reading the Lost Children Archive, a novel, by Valerie Luiselli.
The book is about refugee children coming to our country to escape their own. They are children “who have lost the right to a childhood”.
The novel weaves a personal story with the horrifying and tragic plight of these children.
I learn of Stephen Haff, who has opened a one-room schoolhouse in Brooklyn. It’s called Still Waters in a Storm, and that is what it is.
His students who are immigrants, or children of immigrants, mostly of Hispanic origin, ranging in age from five to seventeen, are taught Latin, classical music, and how to scan poems and understand rhythm and meter. The children learn parts of Paradise Lost by heart and understand it. He and his students do a collective translation of Don Quixote from Spanish to English.
I learn of a little girl, eight or nine years old, arguing passionately over the “exact way” to translate these words:
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness.”
“To surrender dreams – this may be madness.”
I learn about Steven Feld and Murray Schafer who “thought that the sounds people make, in music or in language, were always echoes of the landscape that surrounded them.”
“In Papua New Guinea, Feld had first recorded funerary weeping and ceremonial songs of the Bosavi people in the late 1970’s, and he later understood that the songs and weeping he had been sampling were actually vocalized maps of the surrounding landscapes, sung from the shifting, sweeping viewpoint of birds that flew over these spaces, so he started recording birds. After listening to them for some years, he realized that the Bosavi understood birds as echoes or “gone reverberations” – as absence turned into a presence; and, at the same time, as a presence that makes an absence audible. The Bosavi emulated bird sounds during funeral rites because birds were the only materialization in the world that reflected absence. Bird sounds were, according to the Bosavi, and in Feld’s words, “the voice of memory and the resonance of ancestry”.
Bird sounds – “the voice of memory and the resonance of ancestry”.
Those I’ve lost come to me as birds, my mother as a cardinal, my brother as a Great Blue Heron. My brother passed 79 days ago and still there’s an ache, a continuing awareness of what we shared. I listen to, and watch for birds. They line my landscape and open seams.
R. Murray Schafer, best known for his World Soundscape project, wrote that “hearing is a way of touching at a distance”.
I listen to birds, touched at a distance I might not be able to imagine. I trust in touch.