It’s right there in Billie’s voice, lilting like the fragrance of blossoms on a spring breeze, wilting like a gardenia in the hair of the woman handcuffed to a hospital bed.
It’s there in the jail where Thoreau was held after refusing to pay his poll tax, protesting slavery and the United States’ war against Mexico. As the story goes, the elder Emerson visits his young protégé in lockup and exclaims “Why are you in here?” To which Thoreau replies “Why are you not in here?”
It’s in the consonant dissonance of Thelonious Monk; it’s in the colloquies of Lorraine Hansberry and Jean Genet; it’s in Myanmar, #MeToo, and AR-15s. The spirit lives between the bars and the lines, and it’s conjured up here in these pages. Perhaps there’s some peril, giving voice to the dialectic, in this volatile time when two plus two equals five. But with Billie Holiday, it’s precisely the struggle so perceptible in her instrument that allowed her—and allows us—to rise above the racket and take wing. The truth is laid bare, and yet it remains a tricky minx. We clamor for brass tacks. And it turns out that humans do not flourish during warming trends; a free press is the defender of the people; ‘American Muslim' is not an oxymoron. The truth might not set us free, but in our abiding pursuit of it, we may learn for ourselves why the caged bird sings.