Kauaʻi ʻōʻō by Janneke de Beer

Dec 10, 2018

Mine is not a complicated song. It has been sung for generations before me, and it will be sung for generations more. On a clear day, it can be heard for miles – across the trees and valleys and through the din of the multitude of other songs and cries and chirps and calls – but to the ears of those who are listening for it, it is always there. It is a perfect sound. It is the only sound.

I worry sometimes that no one is listening.

Mine is not a complicated song. It has three notes, more or less, with the first one in the middle. It is this note that takes the most practice, even if it is not the most complex, musically. It’s a simple note, just holding a single tone, but it is this single tone that defines the entire song. It’s the tone that introduces the song – and therefore me – to the world around. When I was younger, I listened to all the voices around me, how they performed this note, the many different ways they introduced themselves, and how I might make it my own. I have practiced and, though my first performances were shaky and wavering, over time, I’ve perfected this single note into an art form in and of itself. It’s a masterpiece. It is a symphony, an overture, a single note that calls out my glory and my skill.

I think sometimes that no one is listening.

Mine is not a complicated song. The second note, to the untrained ear, sounds more complex, but I assure you, it is not. It’s really very simple, just a little trill, hovering around the same tone. It’s not meant to say much on its own, but rather accent and highlight the note that came before. It’s meant to show that I can not only tell you about myself in a single note, but also that I can expand upon it in the next note and all the sounds that aura it. I can take an idea and build it into something grander. Think of the home we could build together, that note says. Think of the outside, that first note, then think of the inside, the walls, the bedding, the space that will be yours and mine and ours alone. It will keep us dry when it rains, warm when it chills, cool when the forest below us begins to burn.

I suspect sometimes that no one is listening.

Mine is not a complicated song. The third note dips down to mimic the first note, almost the same, but not. There is a slight difference in it, the way the tone trails slightly, still high from the trill before, and lilting at the end as it waits for the answer. It’s the lilt at the end, the invitation for the duet that can never be left out. The sound is mine, yes, but what is mine is never mine in isolation. The note I sing, I learned from my father and his father and his father before him. I listened to my world and I heard how to invite you to it, and I call you in. I tell you the story of myself, and I beckon you to join me. I want to show you my world. I want you to be here beside me.

I know sometimes that no one is listening.

Mine is not a complicated song. Mine is a duet, and I know my part well. I know every moment of the part I sing – every tone, every quaver, every last fraction of a breath within it – I know it all from the moment I rise in the morning to the moment I sleep. I sing it for you, here among the mountains and trees, and I wait for your answer. I heard your answer once when I was young. I don’t remember when that was, but I know it must have been. I know there was a time when I felt other bodies against my own. I don’t know when that was, but I believe it must have been.

I feel sometimes that no one is listening.

Mine is not a complicated song. It is a song that has been sung for generations before me and will be sung for generations more. It is the song of you and me, and it is the song of your body against mine. It is a duet, and though the forests now only hear half, I know your half is there. On a clear day, I will hear it, and I will know it. Perhaps all the days are only foggy, or perhaps other songs ring too loud. I know you are there, because I sing a duet. I sing my part well. I sing it with perfection. I sing it with knowledge passed down from before knowledge could be known. I know you do the same. I know the other half of the duet exists, and I know you will sing it with me. I know when the sky clears or the noise dims, you will be there, because you have always been there, and you always will be.

Mine is not a complicated song.

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