We are the choristers of Echo. Our forms are stout, rigid, like matryoshka dolls. Tongues of wood, flat and heavy inside the lacquered wood of our bodies, emit deadened echoes into an enclosed glass room.
But in the grand anteroom, Maestro rails and gesticulates, punches his fists to a wild beat. He has no orchestra; he proclaims his own vocal Symphonie Fantastique, from which our instant echoes derive. No joy or anger, no grief or hope attach to our notes. They are pro-forma. The wooden sounds of our tongues find no resonance on the overtones, no life of their own. So it is meant to be. Thus, occasional passers-by will hear only Maestro’s decree and our ready, obedient affirmations.
At night I, the smallest one, nest inside all the others. I, the smallest, the only one with a whole body, such as it is. Once they left me out through the night. Alone, without others to hoard precious air, I found a new breath; found that when I filled my lungs, upon exhaling, I could move – fluidly, as if I were born to do so. Then, upon my breath a sound of my own invention escaped. Astonishing, beautiful silver sounds.
Let me play! Trill and glide, tickle the air and descend to a sung whisper. No words could approach this glorious sensation. Let me simply feel the thing itself; let me be lost forever in this freedom, with no rhyme or reason. Dizzy, dizzy, insane from glee.
My lungs quiver from air rushing in and out, a powerful hot pulsation in my chest, and still the silver sound persists and even grows. My cheeks flush dark, my breath crests in long strings of “hah-hah-hah-hahs” that careen abruptly into beautiful howls. One of my arms sweeps the floor and the other reaches toward the sky. Before I collapse from mad spinning, there is a moment when I fathom it. Yes, something hovers beyond this raw sensation. But though I ache from yearning, I cannot grasp it entirely or know how to construct it. Why doesn’t it come, the way free sound on breath came? I turn to the matryoshkas. They provide no help or hint. Encased, they are more silent than dead sound.
That was a long time ago. I did not find the elusive object of my search. Neither the wood nor the silver could fashion living words for the wood was dead and the silver, luminous with hysteria. By and by, I came to understand that a few of Maestro’s spittle- and sustained-sound patterns had unique meanings. But I never took any of them as my own, and he never offered.
Are you surprised at the repeated songs I sang, that the way I sang as a chorister of Echo grew into my own fate-song long after Maestro was gone? Yes, the words snatched hold of their destiny. Those words were alien hollow vessels, monotones from old tongues of wood. At least nothing ever reached the agony of that one free night when dizzying, excruciating desire swelled my ribs and voice, reaching and ready to form a nameless thing.