Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Nothing but birds

   There's a Mary Oliver poem about a tree. She sees a tree. Stares at its silhouette. And then the tree rises. The whole thing, into the air. Lined by birds. Crammed with birds, and as she was looking, when she looked, they took off. The shape of "a tree" lifting away, sifting into that particulate trail of smoke and beings birds make.
    For almost three years I stored half of my life in a warehouse in downtown Pittsburgh. 4th floor. Rectangle the standard size of a garage in San Francisco. My shit frozen in there, in situ. The place played top 40 24 hours a day. Guy in the space opposite ran a machine shop and covered all of our stuff in white dust but you couldn't begrudge his guts. Man had a job. He has making his way.
   Whenever I walked there to retrieve something I hadn't thought I'd need or reflect on why I had so much crap moldering away I passed half a block of those deathless pine bushes major cities throughout the Northeast cordon their parking lots with.
  And whenever I did I'd swear the bushes moved. They were filled with sparrows. Little chirping dirty sparrows hunting, trying to stay hidden and warm. Hopping as if with legs tied.
   And I would walk by and they'd go quiet and I would stop. And then I would try to get close to them and they would all fly away, leaping out of the bush like deer from a field and I would hope that Mary Oliver poem would come to life, and it almost did.
  I never gave much truck to birds. Lizards with feathers. Second rate pets. Toys for people who didn't want to handle an animal.
  My brother and my mother watch birds. They read the books and check the drawings against what they see. They bring binoculars on a stroll.
  It makes me sigh.
  But then I think……100 years ago nothing flew. Not a Goddamned thing. Nothing.
  But birds.
  And men and women would go on walks and these little mindless angels would move amongst them and lift up into the air, into the firmament as they called it, and dance and sing and dive and roll and we would stare in wonder and give them names and try to ape their songs.
   And I thought, what do I know of that? Can I tell a sparrow from a finch, a hawk from a harrier? Can I sing to them in ways that they might know and be calmed by? If they called to me would I come? Not.
   What weaker worlds we live in now. The trails we cannot follow, the colors we cannot tell, the names and play of the natural world we've never known which give life its grounding when all else is taken away.
  When my phone dies and there's no book in my bag and my credit card's declined what else do I have but the birds in their gathered flocks? The horses or cows huddled by our fences? The name of this bush or that, this shade, that color, genus, species, family, and type...the encyclopedia of existence sung back to us and not known.
  We've made ourselves illiterate. Before the face of all of creation, we're dumb. Speechless. We have no words for the world living just beyond the range of our servers. We cannot follow. We don't know what they do or what they bring us.
   Beyond that be monsters.
   No. We be the monsters.


  1. Just so long as you're not counting pigeons as "birds." Them monsters be vermin.

  2. Nice, but not holding my attention as much as your previous writings! Keep those stories coming!

  3. Why do we make ourselves slaves to inanimate object that we pay to house and rarely visit? Birds don't do that. Glad you keep writing.

  4. Maybe there is something to that old cliche—free as a bird—Could it be that understanding their seemingly incessant chatter might offer insight or wisdom? Is there meaning in the all-pervading 'twittering' of social media. Do birds know something we don't? There is a murder of crows outside my door on any day and down by the creek the kookaburras laugh before swooping to break the snake that lurks in the grass. They are where they belong. Not caught in a cage that replicates the prisons we create for ourselves. And you're right—all that we have done, all that we surround ourselves with falls away and we know nothing.

  5. We've "dumbened" ourselves with all the information at the tip of our fingers and called it knowledge. When electricity fails and the battery of the cellphone goes dead, we're left barehanded to face ourselves and the vast universe, and the silence becomes deafening.

  6. I think this is well written :) For some reason it reminded me of the book Emir's Education in the Proper Use of Magical Powers. It's a very interesting book. Sometimes it amazes me how much our world has changed since I was a kid. I remember being out in the country in Iowa, surrounded by corn fields and forest before the internet and smart phones etc were mainstream. I had a lot of time to think about life and just enjoy nature. So different back then!

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