Bird Bouquet by Syrah Linsley

Mountains covered in greenish orange moss and flora

When you click your tongue against the roof of your mouth to call for your children—the same popping sound your father made to call for you, a sound so loud I can hear it through crowds—I’m reminded of the whistled language lingering in the mountain ranges of northern Turkey. They call it their bird language. These whistlers rearrange their fingers against their lips like stalks of a spoken bouquet, creating complex sequences of chirp, trill, and ring, louder than the voice of a dozen birds combined. I haven’t witnessed the bird words up close, but I’ve watched the videos, read the articles, heard the recordings. These mountain dwellers can communicate through hills and valleys, can engage in conversation that transcends distance.

You remember hearing how your ancestry traces back to mountain dwellers in Japan. When we ask your father about this history, he blinks, nothing to say, his memory having flown away years ago. I don’t blame you for wondering whether the last Japanese falconry master is one of your distant relatives. I was reading about him too, but I was intrigued by his commitment to remote locations and solitude, relying on what the wings bring him.

When we first started dating, and you lived in Forest Hills, I lived in Heritage Hill—my stomping grounds singular, yours plural. These were our versions of the mountains, the space between us a place to test our bird call. We still live apart and are still finding the balance: how often to call each other, to approach, to stay, to leave, to be alone. Whistled languages can be found across the globe—Mexico, the Amazon, the Canary Islands—but they tend to develop in areas of isolation.

Was the falconer really alone, you might suggest, knowing his bird would return to his open arms? I say isolation, and you hear intimacy. I still have the video of you peering out a window on the Shinkansen bullet train, toward the hills, as I sat by your side, nestling into your shoulder. I’m sorry we did not make it to Mount Fuji. Our stay in Japan was so brief; we were passing through and running out of time. When you regretted not reaching that mound of earth, did it hurt because the bird is in your blood? Is your voice the sound of wingspan, your name made of mountain?

I’ve been reading about the human use of echolocation, how someone visually impaired can learn to click their tongue in such a way to gauge the distance between themselves and everything else, sensing when others move closer or farther away. By clicking in quick sequence, they notice the subtle changes of sound bouncing off objects.

The closer you approach a door, the louder your echo becomes.

The closer you approach the world around you, the louder you hear your own voice.

All these decades later after your father first clicked for you, your family still clicks for each other, a chorus of calling, reverberating against the walls of the retirement home as you and your siblings reach for your father’s brown-feathered face amidst the snowbanks of weathered-white faces.

We agree that the familial click feels like licking peanut butter off the roof of the mouth. You pull your tongue back toward your throat, a slingshot, the sound releasing. You show me the way you can snap your fingers with similar force, how the sound comes from the middle finger on the edge of the fleshy palm at the last second.

The sound of an encounter.

The weight of a reunion.

You click your tongue to find the people you love and draw them closer, like when you click into the yard to call your children in for dinner. I would click my tongue to determine a distance, and to admire what I love from that distance.

I could live like this. I could savor the tension in my tongue until that tension gives way to song.

I could listen for you, listen for the birds.

I could listen for the space between us.

You and I are the falconer, but you and I are also the falcon. By calling to each other, we are calling to ourselves. We are learning to listen for the sound of our own echo.

We gather each click, each clip of wing, as if collecting tulips from a garden of encounters.

Isn’t this what I do as a writer? Each word on the page is my click click click. I write to gauge the distance between myself and the outer world, between me and you and the way we move. The words I write are a bird, a bouquet, a boomerang, returning to me when I send them to you.

Meet the Contributor

Syrah linsleySyrah Linsley is an MFA candidate at the Bennington Writing Seminars, where she is writing a collection of essays. The recipient of first place for nonfiction in Bennington’s international Young Writers Awards and first place for creative writing essay from the Liberal Arts Network for Development, she has received support in the form of writing residencies from the Rockvale Writers’ Colony and the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Y Nakanishi

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