Still I am lonesome: Balancing Possibilities in Yuriko's “A Clearing”
In the waning hours of my life in Orange County, an unfamiliar type of hope arrived to me in the form of a song. Yuriko, a Brooklyn-based musician, had sent me her latest track, “A Clearing.” Upon listening, I learned again the great and improbable truth that songs (and people, and poems) come into our lives when they are most needed. I had the miraculous experience of listening to “A Clearing” when I needed it.
On the day before “A Clearing” bestowed its quiet grace upon me, Yuri and I spoke on the phone. Our worlds were different: she was tucked into the unbridled energy of New York City, and I was in a quiet suburb with its perfect, tree-lined streets. Despite distance, the stuff of our hearts were similar, and it always had been. Yuri and I grew up beside each other. Throughout high school, we collected our growing pains, favorite songs and movies, and early heartbreaks side-by-side. When it was time to leave Redlands, we embarked to each coast with dreams of equal weight: a musician in the east, and writer in the west. Our conversation that day wasn’t about these aspirations. I remember admitting to her that there was a pain in my heart that I could not understand. Yuri understood, and though my pain was opaque, it felt lighter in her emotional presence. Before exchanging goodbyes and hopes for better days, she told me she had finished a song and would be sending it my way.
After our conversation ended, I wandered out of my apartment and onto empty sidewalks. It was chilly in that early evening in October, but the sun drenched the Irvine streets with its gold, warming the air just so. There was a fog inside me controlling the joystick of my mind and body. And by “fog,” I mean depression or one of its other associates (lethargy and listlessness, loneliness as wide as a sky, hopelessness). I write “fog” because I prefer to hide behind metaphor. I am torn between feeling undeserving of naming this affliction and feeling afraid to admit its power over me. But this was my reality. I walked until I found myself at William Mason Regional Park, a patch of grass and ponds I had only ever driven by. I walked until I found myself sitting beneath a weeping willow tree, watching a white crane bathe herself in dark waters. Mothers held the hands of their children and birds were singing overhead. I laughed to myself as geese flew above me. It’s like I had manifested my own Mary Oliver poem, some naturalistic world that bore the weight of undeniable beauty in the presence of inscrutable sadness. This world I had stumbled into had space for both.
I was walking back home when I listened to “A Clearing.”
Some songs act like a mirror. You catch your own reflection in its lyrics. You hear your own heart-strings being plucked, your experiences distilled into rhyme and rhythm. Other songs function like prophecy. Within it, there is a future we hope for, a life or love we work towards. The song contains a world that suddenly feels possible. If we wait long enough, if we act earnestly and truthfully, maybe we can enter this world and find a home there.
“A Clearing” functions in both ways. Like some heaven-sent lullaby, the song’s chorus rings with discovery and a promise: “There is a clearing/a clearing to be found.” The grammar of this sentence is affirming. There is a certainty in its simple, perfect language. Amidst chaos, there is clarity to be found, open skies and fields ready for dance and rejoicing. In the first verse, the singer waltzes with her lover, with shame and past woe melting in the warmth of this presence. She sings, “Love is too tall to ignore” and I believe her. I believe that there can be a love that is too true for shame, too bright for complacency. I imagine that when we arrive at this clearing -- whatever it may look like -- we may be emboldened to be vulnerable. In this clearing, we lay down our defenses, embracing our fear so that we may be able to embrace this love too.
And yet, the chorus continues, “Still I’m my father’s child...Still I am lonesome, still my soul hides.” We need not deny our pain. The singer cries, “still,” easing into rest before acknowledging all parts of herself. Still, we can encounter the clearing without erasing our reality. This song shows that we can find rest without solving every problem, without easing every pain. We can love the version of ourselves that is a hurt child. We can love our loneliest selves, our hidden souls. In this song I learned that the most graceful instinct we can be blessed with is to hold two opposing impulses in the same body, and then love that body. And then love both of those opposing impulses.
I arrived in my apartment with a kinder understanding of myself, of my experience. Yuri’s song was stuck in my head, its ethereal composition casting a glow over a world that still contained darkness. I found my clearing that day. I know I will find it again.
Yuriko’s song, “A Clearing” was released on Friday, May 8th, 2020. Stream it on Spotify.