By Christopher David Rosales
My plane takes off from Denver Airport in sunshine as bright as it’s likely to be where I’m headed, LAX. I’m seated in the emergency exit and nodding as I type this. Nodding to signal that, first, I’m giving my undivided attention to the flight attendant. And, second, that I’m prepared in the case of emergency to do any number of things I’ve not heard, because it’s hard to hear what someone is saying when you’re typing this sentence. This one, too. I waited to write these words until on a plane, but why? Something about flying as related to a controlled fall, which is how I feel about writing.
A constant state of emergency.
Perhaps an overstatement, considering the average commercial airplane soars at 36,000 feet, an average of 6.81818 miles, about 390 Blue Whales high, at least 6,956 South American Western Amazon Basin Pygmy Marmosets (stacked head to tail, of course). The average sentence never soars—hence its averageness. Still, writing is a constant state of emergency because, as Homi Bhaba said, “The state of emergency is always a state of emergence.”
So why, for so long, have I been obsessed with Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Silly Song”? What emerges?
I want to be silver.
You will be very cold.
I want to be water.
You will be very cold.
Embroider me on your pillow.
Flights over the Rockies are notoriously turbulent, which means passengers and flight attendants stay strapped in. So does the beer in the cart. Better, I suppose, so I don’t get as silly as I might permit myself. Translation should be meticulous business.
Lorca’s “Silly Song” or “Cancion Tonta” in the original Spanish is hardly twenty-nine words long. Only twelve lines. An exchange between mother and son where son expresses his desire to change his state of being. All the mother can do is to embroider him on her pillow.
I realize her grounding gesture as I look over the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, clouds just as white hovering above. The format grounds us as much as the words: a son’s questions about the potentiality of being, about the desire to be something other than he is, always answered simply, matter of fact.
Existential meets the earth.
Even those who don’t suffer from ennui – who would commit hara-kiri before writing the word ennui, let alone say it – seem to understand it as universal experience. A pang or pleasure in indulging, even relishing, in the want for more out of being. But will we long to be silver and water? Have we been water and ashamed, or perhaps silver and proud? What does it mean to be these things?
The magic of metaphor (and the metaphor for magic?) is that our response is a blueprint for our own psychology. Through Garcia Lorca’s words I receive permission to ask myself when I’ve felt most silver. I ask what it means to be silver. I can wish to be silver and wish to be water, not only to long for those things but to learn what they are. To learn that the figures we depend on – a mama, a father, sibling, friend, romantic partner, even a place – can embroider us. A simple act. A grounding act. You can’t land unless you’ve been in the clouds, but maybe if you remain there, embroidered upon them, silver and water singing a silly song, you move from emergency to emergence. Esta momento. Eso si! Ahora mismo!
We’ve landed, begun our endless taxi around the runway. I can’t see much, only other planes. A shuttle crawls across the tarmac, empty of any baggage and coming to receive ours, with its flaps snapping in the wind.
This moment. That, yes! Right away!
Christopher David Rosales' fiction has appeared in anthologies, journals, and magazines, in the U.S. and abroad. His novel, Silence the Bird, Silence the Keeper is forthcoming this summer from Mixer Publishing, and in 2009 that novel won the Hispanic Scholarship Fund & McNamara Family Creative Arts Grant. In 2013 Rosales was the Writing Fellow at The National Archives at Philadelphia. Previously he won the Center of the American West's award for fiction three years in a row, and was a finalist for the Faulkner-Wisdom Award. He is a PhD candidate at University of Denver, where he was recently honored with the Doctoral Research Award. Excerpts from his next novel were published by The Denver Poetry Map. Rosales is the Fiction Editor for SpringGun Press.