By Myfanwy Collins
A dove sings into the ear of Pope Gregory I. The dove is making an offering of words, of chants. The dove is suggesting. His muse. From this Pope Gregory built his antiphonary.
I am not the dove.
I am here. I am listening.
Now, I feel like I am in touch with the sacred.
Sometimes I just listen to one part over and over. Sometimes the whole thing. I listen. I listen. I listen until it becomes chant, prayer. I recognize this feeling.
My chest is tight.
I can’t eat.
I can’t sleep.
I am falling in love.
I am in love.
I am a part of something.
I am broken.
I am broken.
I am broken and I can’t find my way back.
I am grieving.
I am lost.
And then I am letting go.
And then I am no longer without sight.
And then I am breath.
The heart is both mental and physical. There is a great deal of pain to yearning and grief produces a similar physical, breathless pain. If you can put that pain into word, into art, you create something that gives breath, produces life.
Make no mistake: This is not about being reborn. This is about living. We will live in this moment here and with this music and with these words.
All this is to say, that for a while now I have listened almost exclusively to Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago.” I listen to it all day long. I listen to it when I drive. I listen to it when I write. I listen to it when I run. When I cook.
I am listening to it right now.
There must be some reason why I am engaging in this repetitive listening other than my desire.
Surely Oliver Sacks has something to say about why I am listening exclusively and continuously to this one album. An article I find suggests something about mere exposure theory and “brainwashing” and “earworms.” But there is nothing conclusive and I am displeased by the suggestion that this is merely something about advertising.
Fuck that. This is something holy. I know it is.
I could say that, to me, it is a perfect album. That each song moves me more than the next. I could say that the music is beautiful and moving. The lyrics. Oh, the lyrics. I could break each piece down. I could say so many things.
The truth about my repetitive listening is somewhere between I don’t know why and I do know why. The truth is that I like the way it makes me feel. The truth is that I am at church and I am sinner and I am being saved.
The truth is that in the end there is catharsis.
The truth is that I like to cry.
The truth is that I like to feel like I am falling in love, out of love, in love. I like to feel like I am letting go and falling, falling.
I was pet sitting. A whole month in another person’s one-bedroom apartment. I was alone. My own bed. My own bathroom. A tub.
Her books. Her music.
I tried on her life.
We lived in this strange city together and he had slept with his coworker and broken up with me. At first the devastation and then the relief. He wanted me back but I wanted this now. This alone. All the rest of the men now were just temporary. That was fine. I kept feeling like something important was going to happen. I was keenly aware of my heart beating.
I sat in her chair and looked out on the neighbors and their pool. I drank wine and listened to her Joan Armatrading tape over and over. Love and affection. Love and affection.
The hermitage. Love and affection. The chalice. The prayer.
I have lost pounds. I can only eat crackers. I want to wear a simple tunic. Take a vow of silence.
This is okay. It is okay. It’s not okay. It’s weird. I think Justin Vernon might be the only person who understands how I feel right now. I find the closest thing to an answer within an interview where Vernon says, “Emma is a place you get stuck in. Emma’s a pain that you can’t erase.”
Is that it then? I am in Emma and she is in me and we can’t quit each other?
My mother has just died. I am in Florida. The coroner has taken her from my sister’s house. The hospice people have scheduled a time to take away the bed.
I was supposed to be flying home but she died when I was on my way to the airport. I was with her minutes before she died. I remember holding her cold hand and telling her it was okay to leave us.
If I could forget how scared she looked, I would forget it. Instead, it is the one detail that comes again and again. She couldn’t speak. Her eyes.
I leave my sister’s house and wander the aisles of the grocery store. It is brightly lit and feels safe. I pick up some cheese, crackers. I don’t know. Wine. Grapefruit juice. It all feels so pointless.
Eventually, I buy the song but I only allow myself to listen to it at certain times and when I do, I’m allowed to keep it on repeat for as long as I need to. This song is my penance.
I knew when I left for the airport that my mother would most likely die that day. I knew I would be on the plane, heading back north as she died. I knew I couldn’t be with her the moment she died. I could not.
I knew she was scared.
I knew she was dying.
I left anyway.
Now, Lee Ann Womack is my mother singing to me, telling me that what I did is okay. She is telling me to live and keep living. She is telling me to dance.
In the cabin alone. Maybe walking in the day by the lake. Maybe sleeping. Justin Vernon became a monk. Chanting. The dove in his ear. Singing. Whispering.
This is pouring rain
This is paralyzed
Maybe I need to find a cabin in the woods in Wisconsin. Maybe I need to find a dove to whisper in my ear. Maybe this album is my dove.
This album has led me to this page. This album has brought me these words, whispered them into my ears through my headphones.
This album is my dove and I am letting these words fly up.
I am letting go.
Myfanwy Collins lives in Massachusetts. Her latest novel is for young adults and called THE BOOK OF LANEY. For more information, please visit: www.myfanwycollins.com.