If we handled grief with simple exchanges, we would approach funeral parlors with delicate flutters, we would trade them in for truth. When made tangible those flutters may replicate the heart of a hummingbird. Then, when tangible, we would be given stones, for that truth.
This is what Sufjan Stevens does in his album Carrie & Lowell. He trades in flutters for truth, hummingbird hearts for stones. He does it with the softest hands. We can hear it, the finger picking kept busy like tears down the throat of those in mourning. Sufjan, however, seems to insist, instead, that our throats are made of rain sticks.
And that this crying, it is a beautiful sound.
Departing from the brightly colored extravaganza of 2010’s Age of Adz, Sufjan returns to the white robes of his 2004 album Seven Swans. Though he would probably just tell you this is what he needed.
I think it is also what a lot of people need.
It is easily, also, so much more.
Towards the end of “Should have known better” the second track, Sufjan sings,
“My brother had a daughter
The beauty that she brings, illumination”
And I swear, this is when we trade in the stones- for live hummingbirds.
I would hate to hear these songs in a venue with standing room only.
Because they take you down.
They pelt you with the softest, heaviest, most brilliant feathers.
I would play them at a funeral, with the greatest respect for the dead. And some at a birth, in hopes they welcomed this new heart with a gentle soundtrack to sleep, to live, to love, to exchange flutters for stones and vice-versa to.
These lines from Track 6, titled Fourth of July, they transcend poetry.
“…Sitting at the bed with the halo at your head
Was it all a disguise, like Junior High
Where everything was fiction, future, and prediction
Now where am I? My fading supply
“Did you get enough love, my little dove
Why do you cry?
And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best
Though it never felt right
My little Versailles.”
The hospital asked should the body be cast
Before I say goodbye, my star in the sky
Such a funny thought to wrap you up in cloth
Do you find it all right, my dragonfly?
“Shall we look at the moon, my little loon
Why do you cry?
Make the most of your life, while it is rife
While it is light”
I highly urge you to give this priceless album a listen.
Especially if you are dealing with a loss, or a gift.