here is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.
And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.
In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.
The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing—for the last time—the song to that person.
You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not. When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and when you feel awful, it doesn’t. In the end, we shall all recognize our song and sing it well. You may feel a little warbly at the moment, but so have all the great singers. Just keep singing and you’ll find your way home.
Ana Rosa Rivera Marrero (Puerto Rico, b. 1967)
Los tres Pablos (Piel encarnada) / The Three Pablos (Ingrown Skin), 2000
Neography and xerography on paper
Robert Gumbiner Foundation Collection
Mother, the dead
Mother, the dead are deafening now.
The dead are like starlings in a tree
I clap my hands once.
They rise in the air.
They rise in a flock.
They darken the sky.
They turn on the wing.
They turn again on the wing.
Mother, the dead are calling to me
—James Fenton, from “The Song of the Dead”
Photography Credit Donald MacMillan, “Six Suns”
Interesting take on stop-motion editing-
Approaching our seventh hour of Wyoming driving, the sun melting the ice in our Taco John’s cups and scorching the dashboard, I turned to my brother and asked, ‘Do you think there are more toenails or trees in the world?’
A valid question, but one that seems quite absurd if you don’t have any heartland road trippin’ under your belt. My brother, ever the earnest poet, didn’t blink an eye and responded, ‘Trees, I think trees, but let me think more about this. Wait, what about cows or toenails?’ I was stumped.
These are the kinds of revelries that fill hours in a real American road trip. Pondering the un-urgent questions becomes standard. Wondering about the minutiae of life, dwelling on old memories you never considered memorable, mining topics until they’re exhausted — this is the stuff of spending hours and hours in a car with people you love. Read more.
Photo: Breahn Foster, Creative Commons