I Rely on My Incomprehension is a column inspired by Clarice Lispector’s Crônicas, which she wrote weekly for the Jornal do Brasil between 1967 and 1973. On April 17, 1971, Lispector wrote, “I rely on my incomprehension, which has given me an instinctive and intuitive life, whereas so-called comprehension is so limited.”
Each morning, I wrestle against the cold, grip the plastic casing around my windows, and jerk them shut. In the night, the wind has grown sharp. I leave a passageway through which the birdsong snakes, letting it crawl up my sleeve. Meticulous, with tongue squeezed against lower gums, I purse my lips and force out a stream of air. My song splits and cracks and crashes through the air like a dull blade. Maybe the mourning doves will mistake me for a captive. My father has been trying to teach me how to whistle since I was seven years old. In the human body, a whistle is where two lips fail to meet.
If my voice splinters or threatens to pierce skin; if it buds out in March only to be quelled by a cold snap; if it thaws; if it tracks muddy prints into the living room—that is only because I am learning a new tongue. In some parts of the world, you are known by the whistle that calls your name. My father and I would spend hours riding to school together. The only sound would be the wind escaping through the crease in the car window. Like a warbler, I learned first to copy, then to sing. A whistle is what you get when you try loving someone for too long.