on music and the loves of our lives

Music feeds my soul even more than words can, which is saying something huge for one who has used words as lifelines, as food, as water, as sleep, as comfort in every storm.


The Sibleys, live at The Palms

Over the last two days while visiting an old desert we love better than nearly anyplace else, we were able to enjoy three very different performances: an evening of good ol’ rock n’ roll, a morning of honkytonk piano gospel and old country, and an afternoon of choral concert that included four different Ave Marias, two of which were being performed for the first time.


Pass Chorale at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

I still hear snippets of all three performances and will long forwards, I am sure. The St. Nicolas Mass (St. Nicholas being the saint of sailors and pawnbrokers) was stunning, and the Armed Forces Salute—for which veterans of each of the branches of the U.S. military were invited to stand as their songs were played—made me rethink once again my stance on this nation’s militarism and its people. I wept to see old, old men, at least one of whom could barely stand, stand at attention singing the rousing songs for which they went to war. I wept to see the former naval submariner to whom I am married also stand (after some prodding), in the posture that only those who have served can ever have. I wept because our wars have become so profligate and vile and unnecessary (and ginned up), but there is still some honor in so many who have served. I wept because I wanted the Ave Marias tucked in between the mass and the salute to go on forever and still the guns of all nations just that long, too.

Ernest Siva, conductor of the Pass Chorale, and Rohnert Pascual, the young tenor and composer of one of the Ave Marias

Ernest Siva, conductor of the Pass Chorale, and Rohnert Pascual, the young tenor and composer of one of the Ave Marias

The Ave Marias in particular haunt my heart today, which remembers keenly two rescued turkeys—Waylon and Jukes—who came to live with us in the early spring of 2010 and lived alongside us for two, too-short years, and so the weeping I did from joy at the concert is tinged now with these memories. How I wish I had been able to play these four Ave Marias for these two dear birds! Us having turkeys was entirely unplanned, but I couldn’t leave them at the feedstore to be swept up to serve as a dinner for someone come that November, so off we went with two furry yellow chicks and no clue how intimately they would soon be mixed up in our lives.

Curious baby turkeys, on their daily walkabouts, which ended in listening to the Ave Maria sung by Barbara Bonney. No human being could ever appreciate such music more than these two gentle birds did: they would crane their necks forward and close their eyes and wind up laying their heads over to one side or the other and rest them on our hands or cheeks until the last note died away into the silence to which we are all now returning.

As tiny chicks, when they heard the first notes of Barbara Bonney singing the Ave Maria, they fairly slipped into a trance: so blissful in the listening that they’d crane their necks and close their eyes and lay their heads on our hands. None of us would move for the whole song. Even after the last note died away, we would be motionless, barely remembering to breathe. Over and over, through their lives, I would play the Ave Maria for them, even near the bitter, bitter last months of Waylon’s life, when his legs gave way to the vicious breeding-for-breasts-only genetics of his kind.

Jukes, the curious and elegant turkey hen who graced our lives.

I had always adored music before knowing Waylon and Jukes, but they significantly advanced my ability to dwell so deeply in it that words cannot intrude. They taught us how good it is to live alongside beings of their kind, and turkey meat has not crossed our plates in any form or fashion since they first joined our family. Typically we do not celebrate Thanksgiving in our house, preferring instead to honor indigenous peoples and all who still struggle to have food and a home in that and all seasons. But for 2010 we cooked a huge vegetarian meal and made special plates for Waylon and Jukes, and spent the day feeling thankful for being able to feed these in our family, and that, too, has served us well since then.


Waylon, the big old turkey who lived with us, suffering some in his later life despite our best efforts to alleviate the problems created for him by the structures of his body (bred solely to grow a big chest on bad legs for people who eat his kind), but ever genial with us and patient as we tried to help him.

Both of them are long gone now, but they lived beyond the season for which they were bred, and we consider that a tiny triumph. I remain grateful to these lovely creatures for being our teachers, then and always, and I wish you could each have known them, for then all seasons would not be so hard on their kind. I wish, too, that they could have perched alongside you, teaching you to listen to music beyond words, for then all seasons would not be so hard on our kind either. I would give all of my remaining life in an instant, though, if I could just have Waylon and Jukes hear the four Ave Marias from yesterday with me.

Today I am so grateful for music. For hearing. For singing. For fingers that play, bodies that practice, spirits that are willing to share their talents with the rest of us, ears that listen no matter what species they are designed to serve. When I leave this planet, I pray that I can go out hearing the music I have loved and that somehow, some way, there will enough of a God force in me or beyond that I can find my way to two white turkeys from earth.


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