Writer’s Workshop: Becca Biggs
Selections from Becca Biggs at the writer's retreat at Lee Kelly's studio
The morning sun is sparse today, held in veiled fog and the child thin arms of the fir trees. Yet it falls in persistent patterns. I, like the patchy sun, refuse to be held back by familial duties, languor, regrets for all the things I almost did.
The birds are singing themselves into the day. It’s something like “still here, still here, still here.”
I have often thought that this is my only super power; my Midwestern drive to just never give up. It’s not much but like the birds, I can feel the simple and enormous song of still here rising with my waking breath.
In the beginning of language there was my Mother’s singing. I did not yet know that her voice was not beautiful. I can hear it still, if I focus on that great dark closet in my head, it is thin and wavering.
I was shy as a child and clung, as a lamb to an ewe, to my Mother. Once in a supermarket I let go of her pocketbook. It was large and flat with a closure that clicked shut like teeth gnashing. From my child’s view, at eye level, the bag seemed the size of a suitcase.
I must have let go to touch something tempting—perhaps apples arranged like art. I remember suddenly feeling lost and then seeing, and seizing once again, my Mother’s bag. Mostly what I remember is the horror when a woman, clearly not my Mother, gazed down at me from up high.
The horror was, I believe, being lost, then found, then hope slashed—lost again. It was perhaps the first little betrayal, where life like a bored cat quietly plays with our trust.
When young, I do remember instances where all of my notions of what I knew fell away, as if a gust had suddenly blown down the walls of my home leaving me standing alone and shaken.
In Kindergarten there was a standardized test they gave to all of the children. I remember a woman repeating a word or two to see if I knew what it meant. Perhaps it was adios. In any case, she explained that if was Spanish and then had to explain to me that there were other languages in the world. My mind flew, like a bird startled from its roost, to grasp the concept.
It was terrifying and exhilarating to feel what other enormous mysteries lay out there to be uncovered. Later that year, I lay out at night with Chris Boxwell at my side staring up into the inky Michigan night. She informed me that even though they appeared as tiny specks, the stars were actually bigger than one of the sidewalk squares we lay next to. Truth be told, I didn’t believe her and it wasn’t until later than my mind raced through a limitless universe.
I come with an unprotected heart, is what I would like to not only say, but also to believe in that old way when we believed stars were actually the size they appeared, small pin-sized holes in the canopy that hung like a velvet curtain opening to the next act; before we knew about black holes and expanding universes, children that fall into icy rivers and are held down by long dead trees, far from the hands that long for them, fathers who run down city streets howling like wolves, if wolves were to grieve deeply, because sadness is as deep and vast as the universe, I can not in good faith let my heart go unprotected and so, while not armed with sword or spear, I do give my heart this small thin shield of knowing.
Do birds think about what they will sing—the tiny head no larger than a nut? Recently a Flicker took refuge in the tangled hot pink branches of the flowering quince. Like a crazed church bell, its high staccato call, exotic and distinctive, would ring out at odd moments throughout the day.
We stopped drying the dishes, reading the paper, pulling the weeds to look—as if the bird had some message if only we could translate. One evening as I stood wearily in the driveway, letting the last of the day roll off my skin with the milky night rain, I heard for the first time an answering call from blocks away. I heard myself laugh a little key in the lock laugh for the end of solitude.
I was reminded of what my friend Marcos said when we were travelling deep in Brazil where the sound of frogs at night was so deafening you had to raise your voice to converse.
Looking out at the impenetrable green, he said, “Just like everywhere, looking for girlfriends.” And what of the octopus as it reaches out to grab a clam, its tentacle slowly becoming clam white. Does the octopus form words in the language of color?
I believe there are no tenses or time in the language of animals. I remember asking my friend Leigh what she thought the dog was thinking when I closed the door and walked down the steps. Does he know how long I am gone? Do animals tell time? Leigh answered, wisely, that she thought each minute was the same, she’s gone, still gone, still gone.