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the harmonias

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

October 2023 I got to participate in KC Rep's annual Ghost Light event. Tasked with writing and performing a haunting story rooted in my heritage and/or Kansas City, I came up with 'the harmonias.' What a delightful adventure this was! I had the privilege of collaborating with not only the talented KC Rep Ghost Light team, but also with the amazing Amado Espinoza for the mesmerizing instrumentation to my piece.

I'm sharing my story with you in three ways:

1) Here is an audio recording made at Amado's studio where you can really hear the instrumentation well.

2) Here's a video a friend made.

3) Below is the transcript.

the harmonias

Ahuli touched wings with her younger brother Elu. She was old enough to guide Elu and he buzzed with excitement, finally a big enough nymph to participate in the Great Web Ceremony.

At the end of summer and cusp of fall, countless species gathered to express gratitude to the Harmonias. Through their wings, Harmonias spoke the languages of every being. Thus, the Harmonias could sing with their sky sisters and brothers, play with their river and ocean cousins, share stories with their forest and prairie relations and so on. And, when eagle, otter, and willow needed to hold counsel, when weasel, sunflower and crab wanted to converse, they called upon the Harmonias. Then, a Harmonia would hover like an iridescent hummingbird, spread translucent wings to the splendid sun and thrum language to every being in its own tongue so that they understood one another.

In the Great Web Ceremony, the Harmonias joined wing to paw, hoof, tail, branch, all manner of appendage to form a shimmering web. When the Harmonias lifted their voices in song, every being from fox to fern to firefly to flounder felt their own species song rise in their hearts and added their voices to the joyous chorus. The gathered species knew themselves as family, through the sacred magic of the Harmonias.

With the end of day, the glorious celebration began to wind down. Ahuli’s family often stayed with Oak and she burrowed amongst the roots and leaf litter of an Oak sapling friend. Happy and exhausted, Ahuli hollered good night as loud as she could, instigating a chorus of good nights from the other nymphs and a chorus of scolding from their parents. Ahuli chuckled at her brother, a few feet away snuggling with mushrooms, suppressing his giggles. As Ahuli’s body relaxed into slumber, she began to dream.

In her dream, Ahuli flies inches above the waves, singing. Her dolphin cousin Tayo is teaching her a song and dance. They crack themselves up in the parts where they roll over-she in the air and he in the water. While Tayo dives skyward, Ahuli leaps onto his fin, loving the thrill of staying on as long as she can before he splashes back into the ocean. Ahuli and Tayo surf wave after wave singing dancing laughing. Ahuli hopes this dream will last and last and last. But a wave slams her body hard and when she opens her eyes, Tayo is nowhere. The ocean red with blood.

Ahuli woke in agony. When she tried to move, pain knifed her wings, took her breath away, and for several panicked minutes, Ahuli was frozen. Her entire being locked inside the raw throbbing of her wings, pain relentless.

Wide awake in the dark, she was surrounded by dissonant sounds and movement as though plunged into a hornet’s nest. Ahuli swiveled her head in a panic, willing her eyes to pierce the darkness. Useless. Ahuli was confused. What was she hearing? If she could hear these Dissonant beings, why couldn’t she understand them? She knew all the species, all the beings around her. Ahuli had never been in the midst of language she could not understand.

Though the piercing pain had lessened into a dull ache, though she felt the instinct to fly, fear pinned Ahuli to the spot. Ahuli’s heart raced. She felt alone. Where was Elu? Where were her parents?

The dissonant sounds abruptly stopped. In the eerie stillness, Ahuli could sense them closer still. Something crouched inches from her. She could feel the creature breathing raspy and shallow. Ahuli instantly shrank; tried to fly but her wings would not cooperate. The tiny hairs on her body stood up. She felt a scream rise within her, but like in a nightmare, nothing came out. Her heart pounded. For an eternity, the creature circled Ahuli in the dark, its claws scraping.

The creature then seized Ahuli, claws pinching her sides, and threw her into a wagon. The creatures shouted to one another, again in dissonant tones she couldn’t decipher. Was this their language? Shouting?

She felt the presence of other Harmonia in the wagon. Ahuli wanted to call out for her mother and father, her brother. But somehow knew to stay quiet.

In the moonlight, Ahuli could see the creatures were covered head to tail in a thick shiny coating that glinted cold. Ahuli was terrified. What was this creature, metal and sharp angles? She tried to shield herself but again her wings didn’t move.

Ahuli turned to her wings. Shrieked! Her wings were gone! Shredded wisps of arteries twitched incoherently from shoulders where wings once fluttered. WHY? As Ahuli looked away from her shoulders she locked eyes with Elu, saw the terror in his face and dragged herself to him. The creatures shouted at her. Why couldn’t she comfort her brother? Where were their parents? Why were there only children in the wagon?

As the wagon lurched along the rough trail through the dark forest, sparkles caught Ahuli’s attention. Tree branches shimmered in the moonlight, luminous. How? With what? Ahuli caught her breath. Smeared and slashed wings. Tattered bits of wing twinkled from tree limbs. Crushed, torn wings glimmered from the forest floor. The nymphs moaned in anguish, huddled closer to each other. Ahuli held Elu tight. wanting to comfort him despite her own anguish. Confusion. Her own horror.

Then, when the wagon reached the edge of the forest, the nymphs shuddered at what they saw. Young trees, saplings, had been cut, their limbs amputated…just like the nymphs. Ahuli recognized the Oak friend she had snuggled with in the night. Her narrow graceful limbs, jagged, sawed off. Ahuli instinctively called out to her but heard no reply. She could not speak with Sapling anymore. Ahuli could not speak with any creature anymore. She then remembered her dream. No more singing with Tayo. Time stopped. Tears overcame Ahuli. She nestled Elu tighter, desperate for wings.

Who were Harmonia if they could not communicate with other beings?

While they traveled through the long night and into day, the creatures shouted at the nymphs, shouted at each other. Ahuli noticed that the grey flinty coating was not actually a part of them, but a covering worn to protect themselves, from the sun. Ahuli remembered when she was a younger nymph hearing whispers about these creatures, tales meant to frighten wayward nymphs. Stunned. She thought they were just made up. What were they? Ahuli watched as they lashed at the mare pulling the wagon, slashed trees and shrubs out of their way, destroy whatever crossed their path. The stories told by the elders came back to Ahuli.

Long ago, the mole rats refused relationship with the Harmonia, renounced community with other species. Over time, they lost the ability to see or hear any being unlike themselves and therefore believed their ways superior. They evolved into the blind and deaf Discords, descendants of mole rats. The Discords thought it their right to force others into submission, killed those who resisted. The Discords contempt for other species, especially Harmonia, was dark and dangerous.

Along the trail in the distance the Harmonia nymphs saw rows and rows of grotesque, shadowy shapes they could not, at first, identify. But as the wagon drew near, each nymph screamed. Screamed when their recognized the shapes as their own mothers, their own fathers, shrieked when they saw their grandmothers, howled when they saw their grandfathers. The Harmonia elders had been massacred. Impaled. Impaled on the amputated limbs of saplings. Their once iridescent bodies brown, hollow, dried out, desiccated.

Ahuli’s stomach heaved as though she would vomit. She squeezed her eyes shut to make the horrific sight disappear but it was seared into her. When did she last hug her mother? Her father? Why would the Discords do this? Why did they hate the Harmonia?

They were carted in the wagon for miles and miles along the trail. And for miles and miles the Harmonias wailed. The Discords tried to force the nymphs to be quiet. They threatened them. They beat them. But the Harmonia nymphs wailed ceaselessly. The Discords shouted the same word over and over again at the Harmonia: cicada. cicada. cicada.

And that is why each year at the end of summer and the cusp of fall you hear the ceaseless wailing, a chorus of sorrow, from what we know as cicadas along what has come to be known as the trails of tears knifing all across this land.


In solidarity with displaced peoples worldwide. May Harmony overcome Discord.

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