After Mary Oliver’s “Mockingbirds”
Cogs Under Surveillance: A Rice Crispy Song
A flock of young robins bathed themselves in pothole puddles this morning. They looked mechanical, ruffling and un-ruffling themselves. Puffy. Unpuffy. Puffy. Behind them, atop a wall of cinderblocks, a chipmunk groomed itself. Disappearing and reappearing—shutter blinks—between symmetrical holes in the concrete, it rubbed its hands over its face, it scratched its ear like a dog, but much faster than a dog. It moved in fast-forward bursts of wind-up motions—a tin toy in a black-and-white film. It was a gray day. Even the rain that fell was part of the pitter-patter machine. Drops plipping once upon the ground, bouncing—fragmented like a bomb—from the singular impact, a palimpsest of mechanical spider’s legs, then dead forever. The puddles becoming mercurial surfaces—perfectly still and reflective. The sky crouched in a hole in the ground. The sun reappearing suddenly from behind a cloud—deus ex machina—like a bulb blinking on for an instant—snap—to encourage epiphanies—then gone again. Crackle. A red-tailed hawk swooping down as if on a wire to snatch the chipmunk from the concrete. Pop. Everything rigged—the cardboard mise en scène of these all-too-typical weekday mornings—where, ever since the virus forced me from my cubicle in the basement of the university building, I have become accustomed to wandering in circles around the apartment complex’s parking lot—clad in underwear and slippers, spooning children’s cereal from a plastic bowl—trying to assemble my life into the puzzle of this instant—pop—of existence. And unable—crackle—to stop myself from wondering what the history textbooks—snap—of the future will say.
Chinchilla: A Hot-Potato Game
When I saw two mockingbirds make a flapping funnel atop the gravel behind the coffee shop, I thought about pulling out my “smart” phone and taking a video of them. They were attempting to kiss, each cloaca a red-hot ember as they hopped up and down in a tangle of white-striped wings. But I was too slow. The birds finished their lovemaking as I fumbled in my pocket. They sailed separately over the weeds—chicory and carpetweed, dogfennel and dandelion, lambsquarter, henbit, crabgrass, ox-eye daisy—separately over the weeds and the railroad tracks beyond them. Separately into the construction zone of a neighbor’s backyard where bulldozer and crane sit (and have been—and will be—sitting) empty as cicada shells for god knows how long.
Director: A Squirt-Gun God
If I had had been able to make the video I might have manipulated the electronic movements—might have used an application to slow the birds down until their motions turned watery. Sensuality elongating in a fan of feathers, until the fragments became continuous, until the straight lines became round. I considered how a photograph might unfold. The single instant connected to infinity on either end, unspooling like a droplet of water across a windshield. Like a puddle of water seeping into the asphalt. Like water churning against water in the oceans of this blue planet. Like clouds bellying through blue skies, from one side of the puddle to the other.
Beyond Western Reason: A Hive-Mind “For the Birds”
Perhaps those birds knew enough to avoid my capturing them. Long before the virus, you and I abandoned reality. All of us together. Long before the virus, we emigrated en masse to live in a world of make-believe. A world where we learned to incline—like bandits in westerns—toward the quick-drawing of a weapon to prove ourselves to onlookers. How fragile we are, scrolling through images as the world unfolds around us—all goes onward and outward—clapping for attention that we can no longer give. How devoted to possessions we are! Reality—that luminous broom that once swept awe into shady corners of disbelief—now tempered to the frames through which we force it with added filters for effect. Caged in cloud memories. Those mocking birds gave me the slip, scudding over the weeds and the flat-bottomed steel rails of once (upon a time) impossible connectivity. The locomotive toot-toots in the distance. Invisible fingers jangle a rag upon the player piano. The saloon doors swing against two smoking guns. If we could slow down their electronic warbling, their white ribbons of song—true to their name—we would surely hear them laughing like angels at us.________
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