Poetry in Motion

Saige Severin

Evanston, Illinois

Evanston Township High School

Fiction

          It happened when she was thirty-six. The scream of wheels on icy pavement, the crash of metal against unforgiving rock, and then—

          Silence.

          Sensation in silence- that’s the worst part. She feels the strain of vocal cords in her throat, tightening and loosening, the gentle interplay of vibrations and muscle that makes her all she is. A master of her craft. An artist.

          A singer.

          Her lips move in empty air. It feels like singing, but for all she knows it could be a whisper.

          She lost her job at the opera house, of course. Her colleagues were all terribly, terribly sorry. So sorry, they told her. It’s really a tragedy. But no amount of sympathy will save a singer who cannot sing. Not when she can’t hear the piano.

          Her apartment is dark when she gets home. It always is these days. She can’t bring herself to turn on a light. She cannot stand to see her reflection unchanged when so much has been lost, so she simply does not look.

          Sleep has eluded her for months now. Her father was in the military, a pilot, so she grew up with the constant noise of jet engines overhead. She trained in New York, a place where the trains never stop and the people never rest. For ten years she practiced, performed, and sometimes even slept at the opera house, curled up on a sofa while voices like bells sang her to sleep.

          Now she lies awake. And when sleep taunts her, when her eyes close but her mind cannot succumb to the silence, when everything is crashing down around her and she cannot hear the wreckage; that’s when she comes here.

          They begin at midnight. She does not know who they are, but it is always the same group. Three men and two women, four with dark skin and one with light, all of them in simple, solid-colored clothing.

          They meet inside an old church. Its pulpit is dusty, its pews ancient and splintered, but they don’t care. They bring candles with them and line the church in light— each flame a tiny star captured within wax and a wick. The tallest of the men brings with him a speaker. All he ever plays is bass. Bass heavy enough to shake the earth. It ripples through the floor and sets her nerves alight.

          She hides in one of the abandoned confessional boxes. There is a small side door that cannot be seen from the front of the church. Its hinges are rusty with age, but she does not worry about alerting them with its squeal. They can’t hear it any more than she can.

          The confessional has a paneled opening that looks out on the pews. Tonight she slides it back with eager fingers. Enough light streams through the gap that she can see them, these beautiful people. Beneath a great window they move, ethereal under the watchful wings of stained-glass angels.

          Her voice used to let her fly. She would float on the back of her notes, riding the strains of Mozart or Faure high above the audience, past the rafters of the opera house, through the sky and beyond the stars. The music of generations carried her beyond herself.

          Now there is no wave of resonant sound to cast out into the world. All she has left is her body, the prison of her limbs. She is heavy now, weighed down and pressed to the earth by no action of her own. Frustration crawls up her throat but she does not scream. There is no satisfaction in a scream she cannot hear.

          She can no longer fly. But she can watch.

          Tonight, one of the women is the first to begin. With cedar-dark hands and a sunflower cardigan, she moves, joyful as a bird set free.

Her hands flit in front of her body like sparrows. Up and out and around they go; now at her head, now clutched to her chest, now loose and flowing, fingers streaming in an imaginary wind. She dances as her hands fly— a waltz for one.

          Rapture. That is the only word the singer can use for the look on the woman’s face. Her feet slam against the floor in time with vibrations from the speaker and she closes her eyes. Her head tips back to heaven.

          Eyebrows arching and falling, cheeks puffed and sucked in, a wink of the eye, a bat of the lashes. Facial features dance with the woman’s body, her expression as fluid as her hands. Her gestures are a prayer. Her signing is a hymn.

          A man is next. His movements are sharper, more certain. Fingers snap and elbows jut. The shapes he traces with his hands have edges. The first woman was a dancer, but this man is a poet, and he has a point to make.

          The first night she found them, the singer was afraid. She was worried they would see her watching. Worried they would judge her. But more than anything, she was afraid of her own longing. Her wings died with her voice, yet these people flew. They were in the stars while she watched from the dirt, clawing at the soil with hands that could not carry her as theirs did.

          Their gestures and dances used to confuse her. By now she has learned to watch not the fluttering hands, but the face. The face is where emotion lives. The face is the true heart of their poetry.

          Another man and the other woman stand behind the pulpit. Their movements are complimentary- each moving when the other is still. They circle each other, arms wide, hands shaping the air. The singer sees worlds at their fingertips. The woman gestures rudely at the man, her face alight in a teasing smile. He falls back, mouth wide, shoulders laughing.

          Their dialogue is love poetry. Real love. It is laughing, crying, screaming, terrible love, the kind that is only known in the dark hours of morning, only experienced with the most secret part of the soul. There are no lies to this love.

          The third man does not perform tonight. He sits in the pews and watches, hands shaking in the air when each of his friends finishes. Like her, he is an observer. But unlike her, he is one of them. He stands when they do and blows out the candles with them, hands moving all the while. Even without the flames, there is enough moonlight in the church to see by.

          She remains in her seat for a while after they leave. Shame overtakes her there. She found their group weeks ago in a strange twist of fate, and she was unable to fight the urge to return, night after night, to learn. These people have a language, a culture. The singer longs to reach out to them, to speak with her body as they do, but her doubts overtake her. How can she long for art when she has lost the ability to create? They can fly and she cannot.

          She waits because she cannot face their pity.

          When the self-loathing passes, she will head outside and walk home. Her bed will welcome her but sleep will refuse to come, and as she stares at the shadows on her ceiling she will miss the candlelight.

          Resigned to another lonely night, the singer pushes through the side door of the church. But tonight something is different. Five figures wait for her outside, arranged in a circle so she can see them all clearly.

          Panicked, the singer casts about for a way out. Her search is in vain. There is only the church and the poets. She wants to run but she knows it is over. They may never return to this place, and if they did they would certainly ban her from watching. Her freedom is crushed, just like that.

          The woman in the yellow sweater waves a hand in front of her eyes. Her lips move angrily but the singer cannot hear her. For the first time she is almost grateful for the accident. If she must be rejected, let it be in silence.

          She shakes her head apologetically and the woman’s eyes soften. Slowly, as if trying not to startle an animal, she raises her hands and gestures. The clench of her index finger by her chin and the same finger extended towards the singer.

          The singer does not respond. She only stares uselessly and wishes she was anywhere but there.

          One of the men stomps on the ground and the group turns to look at him. He reaches out to the singer, offering her his hand. He smiles a tiny, innocent smile, and she sees no pity behind the curve of his mouth.

          She takes his hand, her knuckles white with fear. He does not let go.

          The group leads her away. They go to the dancing poet’s apartment where there is light and late-night coffee and laughter. She sits with them, hands wrapped tight around a warm mug, and she begins to learn.

          Her world is silent, her voice rusty with disuse, but she still has her hands. They can shape the world around her. They can free her emotions like singing once did, her limbs strong as the notes of an aria. She turns on the lights in her house again because she needs to see her own movements in the mirror. Thick music spills from her speakers. She lets the vibrations carry her hands.

          She returns to the church a few weeks later, but this time she does not sneak in. Arms full of candles and dreams, she strides into the church with her friends as an equal. And there, in flickering light beneath the fractured power of God, the poets teach her how to fly.

EDITORIAL PRAISE

This piece is the perfect snapshot of the human condition, the desire to thrive instead of survive. With soaring images and stained-glass angels, "Poetry in Motion" takes us all to church.

Saige is a writer, baker, and book lover. She draws inspiration from the LGBT and Deaf communities. In fall of 2020, she began college and is now a freshman at the University of Toronto studying English and Neuroscience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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