Five Points, Vol. 6 No. 3Fall 2002
From Barry Hannah, “So much of writing is hard work, but you don’t want to admit that when you’re younger because you just want to be a flashing talent and be god-struck.”
For the Birds
When you wake up, raising the film over your eyes, in a hollow of boughs or bark, you are always hungry. And you all talk at once. Each twig has an opinion and holds a singing fabric sewn with discussions of lice, offspring, height above ground, eyesight, mates, one night stands, best routes to Canada once the warm weather comes, the taste of this bug, that bug, spittle needed to mat human hair, mud’s pliancy, the housework of the sky. We think that none of you has an insight into the afterlife. But you all remember birth and the cramped translucent dark before the break-out.
I am bored. I need birds. Not flight but activity, not serene detachment sailing but intense engagement hunting. Look me in the eyes, frontal, head on. And I admire you. Study me askance. And I adore you. Even the moa in the museum case.
The trinket hanging from the Christmas tree.
Incurious witnesses, feathers dabbled in blood, poking your noses in the wounded hands and feet. What did St. Francis tell you? Be yourselves, little ones, and you will praise God.
For how many of us were you the first word?
Trouble sleeping, I think of you in the netted aviary. There among reaching fronds and green blades, you hovered at my sister’s washed floating hair, patient to take a single sand-colored straw that, buoyed by static, reached out half-limp to be taken. She felt it go with a little cry when the root broke from its anchor of scalp-skin.
And this morning, there’s an oil smear on the sliding glass door to the patio, and in it, dangling gray breast feathers—five of them, like milkweed fluff. One of you caromed off the hard sky and left this pattern, as precise as fish scales, scalloped on the glass like a record in rock. Veronica’s napkin. The Shroud of Turin.
Woodpeckers, hairy or downy. Red bellied. Pileated. Flickers. Cardinals. Brown thrashers. A single rosebreasted grosbeak. Once, a tumbling flock of drunken cedar waxwings, chirping like crickets. Red tail hawks with breasts like lampshades. Great horned owls conversing at dawn, in January. Screech owls in their red phases. Mockingbirds copying mockingbirds. Chimney swifts back from Peru to the same elementary school chimney. Kingbirds on powerlines. Blue birds in pairs. Blue jays in gangs. To be a man who surrounds his house with birds. To be a woman visited by wings. To say to the turkey vulture overhead, “Sister.” To say, “Brother,” to the starling in the swirling flock.
If your call and response first thing in the morning make us hold hands and smile in the dark, as we lie in bed, it’s because we’re not alone in the world. And when letters like this one are written, it is because we are.