The Canary Who Jumps


2022. So many twos. Not a palindrome. Not yet. But there are articles out there, looking for meaning, symbols, some kind of reasoning and link to something. There must be something that can explain all this, she thinks, as she puts on her mask and checks for hand sanitizer.

What can be said? A new year. I don’t know about you, dear reader, or non-reader, but it seems as though last January was yesterday. Or a month ago. Or something. Did the summer happen? January in lockdown feels normal somehow, almost expected. The earth made her request with snow; stay inside and stop hurting me and each other.

The street at the moment is blissfully quiet. The icy pavements are keeping activity to a minimum. Perhaps everyone has COVID. There was a moment over the holidays, when everywhere I went there were people coughing, and an ambulance pulled up to a house across the street, lights flashing, the man and the woman getting out with their gear, ready for battle. Alarmingly, it was a couple and their baby who were whisked away. Happily, the mother and baby returned and left a few days later in a large SUV. It looked like family. It’s good to think that there is a family that will come and rescue their members from the isolation and low-level anxiety and sickness. I imagine them leaving for a country house with trees, and a family doctor nearby, and people who ask how they are and actually want to know.

Trees and birds. There are a lot of birds out there this morning. Bird seed is scattered here and there, and a starling was perched on my window sill in the early dawn, with some piece of seed or food that it pecked away at, before flying off to the high branches above the rooftops. Now the birds are quiet, and the sun is working at melting whatever snow is out there, softening the ice. The birds will come back later on, and say farewell to the day, as they do, swooping around the trees. There are no seagulls today. The wind is not coming from the right direction. Trapped here, between train tracks, long streets of neon-lit plastic-headed shops, and the tall silver and grey buildings of Long Island City, it’s easy to forget that the East River, and LaGuardia Airport, and the pathway out to Long Island Sound is just a couple of miles away.

When you are standing at the corner, and a truck runs the red light as you are about to cross, and seconds separate you from metal, no clear path to walk down by the tracks, everything feels far away. Every corner is a boundary, each light changing from green to red an alarm.

So if people are looking for numbers that have meaning, and signs, and really anything that makes sense, it’s no surprise. I think they hope to find someone is on their side. Or not. Maybe they just want adventure. They already have a posse of people applauding their photos of dinner, or humble brags. Who knows what people want.

There are always moments in the depth of winter, which although it is approaching, is never really deep in NYC, not in the same way a walk through a forest might be, when it’s 20 below, when it’s easy to imagine not being able to speak the same language as the people. Winter makes it seem not only possible, but reasonable, a good thing. Bark on trees finds that its voice is heard, and the small paws that press down the snow are loud. In NYC it’s more the emptiness of the streets by the warehouses, the distance playing with the sound of an elevated subway stopping and starting, the man who cleaned off his Jeep at 2am, engine running, but then never left. All these signs and symbols, waiting for discovery and translation.

This kind of silence is better than being silenced by coercion. Speak our way, or no one will understand you. There’s a threat. No one will understand you unless you follow these rules. But then the rules change, and you see they apply differently to different people. It’s not the words, it’s those that use them. It’s not the rules, it’s those who can break them.

But another day comes and goes, and it is an endless string of having to say what is appropriate. Once more. To paraphrase a quote from a TV show of the 1980s – she is a creative thinker but she doesn’t let it interfere with her work. That’s all right then.

And when they do interfere, those notions beyond the margins? It’s wrong to use the passive voice. It’s right to use the passive voice. It’s no one’s fault or action. Strangled by email – how can that be? You can’t even ball them up when they go wrong, throw them in the fire or in the corner. Isn’t this supposed to be our life, and we make our choices, and we are free to do so? Or is it more like a being corrected, and corralled, penciled in and finally erased.

Free. Free to be frustrated, while asking people who are disappointed in themselves and distracted at all times, to notice. It sounds so silly. Notice what? And for what? Amplified and inflated, the people who we are supposed to look up to seem like cartoon nightmares of beauty and probity. It’s a slim covert shadow that falls long and demands that you clean up where it’s been, and mocks you when you can’t.

Another email. Every email you send on a weekend earns you extra coins to trade in for prizes. Disposable, invisible – whose fault is it really if you don’t like this game? Plenty do. Move along, move along, mind the gap.

The sound of cars passing is changing – the ice is morphing to slush, and the sticky physics that pushes the little hills of ice snow away from the speeding tires sends a message to our ears.

What message is sent when everything is wrong, corrected, right, tedious, pointless, endless – a dance of circle back and lean in, with targets, and stakeholders, and corrective actions. Committees to improve the timely handling of half-truths.

Winter should be quiet with the creaking of ice-covered branches moving in the pink wind before twilight. Not the gaping vacuum of hit send on a plastic keyboard. Imagine being told you type too loudly. Imagine.

Maybe the birds need food. To give, and not be criticized or constrained – kindness to not be a weakness, and gratitude a breathing in. Pushing the boundaries drop by drop, mixing metaphors, being the canary who jumps.


© Alice Severin

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