I hiked down to a little cove at the Marin Headlands today. It was a beautiful early spring day, the brush bright and green. I struck off down a steep deer track and came out on a precipitous peninsula, then forced my way through a thicket of lupine and poison oak down to a remote black sand beach. After some hours playing on the rocks and watching the sailboats struggling to get back through the Gate against the tide, I climbed back up to the road and started back. As I passed the old fortifications at the summit of Raptor Hill, a lovely music seemed to float down out of the sky - a single high clear soprano, wordless, ethereal, echoing as in great cathedral. I looked around in surprise, but could see no one singing. A few tourists milled around looking at the view and snapping pictures of The City. No one else seemed to notice the singing. The hair rose on my neck, so strange and inexplicable was the experience.
Then I noticed a small box lying just inside the dark mouth of one of the huge tunnels. A stack of papers fluttered beside it, held down by a stone. I walked over to it, and the music grew clearer. A few coins lay tossed in the box. I dropped a dollar in the box and took one of the papers: "The Tunnel Singing Newsletter." It told of a woman who travels about singing in tunnels, and described some of the better locations in the area where one might catch one of her unscheduled performances. She was trying to raise money to travel to Britain where some of the ancient mines have tunnels that will echo for more than a minute.
I peered into the tunnel. The far end was open, and I could see several figures silhouetted against the bright light. I walked quietly in, perhaps a hundred yards. The music rose and fell, endlessly changing and sweet, playing in harmonies with its own echoes. There, deep under the mountain, two men leaned against the wall and listened to a young woman who stood in the very center of the tunnel and made the music of the earth and air and darkness and light.
I listened, eyes closed, for perhaps ten minutes. Her song slowed and paused, then folded its wings and glided down through the darkness to silence. No one spoke for a moment. Then one of the other figures murmured "thank you," and I grunted assent. We all started walking toward the entrance together, but I walked faster than the others. When I reached the light I hurried off down the road and did not look back. I did not want to see her face or hear her speak or see her pick up her box of coins. I could not say exactly why.
As I swung along, back in the bright sun and the wind again, my spirits were high and my heart beat fast. I felt happy and excited. It seemed like a day that magic could happen; a day of omens and immanence and miracles. I had nearly reached the crowds of tourists near the bridge overlook when I saw a piece of paper lying beside the pavement. It was a sheet of good printing vellum, folded neatly in quarters. It wasn't dirty or water-stained, so it must have been dropped recently. On a whim, and perhaps only because of my mood, I stopped and picked it up. I unfolded it as I walked along.
It was folded like a greeting card, blank on the front. I opened it and found printed in a smooth calligraphic font the following:
I held a blue flower in my hand, probably a wild aster, wondering what its name was, and then thought that human names for natural things are superfluous. Nature herself does not name them. The important thing is to know the flower, look at its color until the blueness becomes as real as a keynote of music. Look at the exquisite flowerettes in the center, become very small with them. Be the flower, be the trees, the blowing grasses. Fly with the birds, jump with the squirrel!
I mused on this a few moments, pleased with my discovery. How appropriate to this day of thoughtful introspection, and to the wordless encounter in the tunnel. It is very true that words can be inadequate and even unnecessary, and yet - if they are so meaningless, how can a few lines on a scrap of paper bring such joy to me, even as they say how useless words are? Smiling to myself, I turn the paper over, and find a formula for a poem on the back:
Line 1: One word, the title (a noun)
Line 2: Two words, describing the title
Line 3: Three words, expressing an action
Line 4: Four words, expressing a feeling
Line 5: One word, a synonym for the title
And then an example:
Trickling roaring moving
It feels so cool
Better and better. Has someone printed this little card and left it for me to find? How many people on this road would have been in a better state than I to receive this gift from a stranger? The sense of walking surrounded by fortunate magic increases, and I feel... I would have to say blessed, though the word comes awkward to my Godless tongue. Nevertheless, I am smiling and happy as I walk back toward my car.
As I walk, I reread the definition of a cinquain. I like the form, but the
definition seems too wordy for such a concise little jewel of a poem. Eventually
I rewrite it as a cinquain itself:
Three words doing
Four gratifyingly concise feelings
And finally, just as I get back to my car, I come up with one of my own,
inspired by my walk:
Turning soaring watching
Infinitely calm and patient
I am still smiling as I drive away.
copyright 1996 by Brian K. Crawford