Years of Indiscretion

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from The Warbler Road

Saigyo and other old-Asian-timers referred to bird song so frequently in their poems that I eventually bought a field guide to Japanese birds in order to guess in more educated fashion at the songs they invoke - like the oft-mentioned bush warbler calling in various weathers from eighth-century shrubbery.
Birds were a critical point of stabilization for those poets’ constant, insistent attention to Placement, in their daily refining and tracking of coordinates and footing in the universe. The insistence is of such an existential magnitude that the bearings it seeks become an ur-Placement and the coordinates of the moment (season, blossom, and bird in relation) become continuous framings of questions on the order of, “Where, in the Enigma, are we?” and “What, in the Enigma, is our lot?” Questions seeking a proper, as in fully awake, human situs in the whirling seasons: primordial crux, with cuckoo calling.
For many years I thought such insistence, persistence, to be little more than poetic/Buddhist convention in the hands of remote masters. Later I happened across the gestaltists’ on the perpetual unconscious placement-within-world known as “auditory streaming” (or even “auditory sense analysis”), wherein each creature’s nervous system segregates the endless sounds of existence into various “streams,” assigns them differentiated sources, pertinences, and planes: the world sorted and weighted via the ears.
And now it seems apparent that those poets of a thousand years ago, when they harked and measured, when they gauged the bush warbler in the bush and the pheasant calling up the hill, were instinctively-as-artists wooing and cultivating those intuited limbic levels of fundamental Placement. They wielded the archetypal joy/need of the process in the same ways troubadours, or any dimestore love song, celebrate the joy/need of the sensual/sexual.

Merrill Gilfillan