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Bee Rohrs

Grade: 11

Lakewood High School

Instructor: Amy Garritano

Birdsong

Personal Essay/Memoir

Birdsong

When life began, she knew nothing outside of her basic needs. She ate, and digested, she moved, and reproduced, she found a home, she hid beneath rocks, she gave more to the earth than any one of us ever would, and then she died. And when her children followed suit, they found that the world around them was changing. They discovered comfort. They discovered attraction. They discovered abundance, they discovered scarcity. They discovered love. They grew legs, and feet, and hands, and strong thigh bones, and thick frontal lobes, and more and more chambers in their hearts. They grew apart, and they gave themselves shiny new Latin names to match.

When we took their legs, and feet, and hands, and bones, and brains, and hearts, we grew new needs. Needs for companionship, community, communication, art. We grunted. We made music with our mouths. We pressed our lips together in a hum, then shifted our jaws down to utter "mama" into the air. We spoke, created stories to tell by the fire, to laugh at, or to cry to, we drew out our speech and combined it with the birdsong we heard in the trees to make melodies, we smashed together every element of language we knew, every sound, syllable, pause, paragraph, and always managed to make something new; we began a legacy around linguistics and it became a physical part of us.

When we found rock, everything changed. Words could be solidified. Made physical, tangible, raw, historical, artifacts that could communicate, kill, contain. We entered new ages, we fulfilled our needs for community, we changed our grunts into organized guides our mouths and hands could follow. We wrote our stories down, made our history permanent, made our money the same material as our books, made authors and poets and anyone who could command words into gods. We became the archivists and the archived, we switched to less sedimentary stationary, we conquered new lands and killed more people just to put content on empty pages. Libraries were built, filled with books, set ablaze, and rebuilt. Societies were too.

When we harnessed lightning we became faster. We created new ways to talk through zips and zaps, and choreographed taps. We made boats to send letters and cargo, and cars that go. We found new elements to exploit, and new people too. We wedded ourselves to steam then coal then oil then whatever became most profitable and most scarce. We argued across oceans about life herself, where she began, where our ancestors came from, when we began and when we began to speak. We made gods, we killed them, we banned them, we worshipped them. The lightning got dangerous. We used it more. We built cities in places where it struck, and made lightning strike in places where we wanted to build cities. We turned our photographs into films, films into projections, projections into LEDs. We stopped using thee and thou and added 'ventriloquism' to our vernacular.

When you walked in I opened my voice box and found nothing. I found myself prehistoric, incapable of harnessing stone or speech to establish myself. You spoke with the grace of an encyclopedia. You were categorized by letter, by syllable, by language, each sentence mapped out like a subway station guide. I spoke in grunts and gasps. You couldn't comprehend me, and I took too long to comprehend you. So we settled with a system that had less complexities, less tone, less confusion. We spoke in motions, in music, in memories. And when you held my hand I sensed not the dividing heat of the historic gap between us, but rather the contemplation of our shared history. We pressed our lips together and we hummed as one. We wrote epics between our entangled hands. We set ourselves aside and we learned how to be silent. We closed our eyes and opened our ears to hear the birdsong.