Sunday, February 24, 2008

This Wounded Bird by Dina Kerik

A bird fell to earth tonight. It is a tiny creature and an otherwise insignificant event, really. It was brought down by my cats from the nest because it is vulnerable. The cats are following their nature to take advantage of the weak and available. Is it natural selection or a cruel streak? I hold the bird cupped in my hands. It is alive and squawking with alarm when I take it away from the cats. The hollow between my breasts makes a resting spot. It is quiet there. I hold the bird and it is still for so long that I have to check to see if the beating heart I feel between my fingers is the bird's or my own.

I was awakened from my sleep to retrieve the bird. The neighborhood dogs were talking about the mayhem taking place on my terrace under the moon flower arch I built out of bamboo. I told Karole and Tary that the arch is a vaginal arch, one for rebirth. I hope it can rebirth this bird with its gray and white and black feathers (all moon flower colors) from the carefree, joyous savagery of my cats.

I hum, soothe, and cry. I summon the Four Pillars of Nature. "If this is to be a death, let it be a small death befitting a creature of this size. No pain! No pain at all", I demand, crying. I'm feeling wounded myself.

"I am a walking wound", I tell Jan Roberts. She is a therapist and a good friend. She is much more than these things: One of those women to whom wearing a large soul is a natural phenomenon, like the honest face she shows to the world. But these two, counselor and friend, are the two that matter to self-absorbed me now. "I am a walking wound", I wail. I hope she can Band-Aid my psyche again this time, patch it up long enough for the strong ichor of me that lies in impotent pools about my feet to gain strength and rise up through these old bird legs of mine to heal the latest volley of outrageous misfortune.

I pick the bird up and it clings to my fingers like branches. I bring it inside cooing, cupping, consoling. "There, there", I say. And. "I know", I say, because I do. I stand in the dark kitchen looking out the window on the perfection I've tried to build here as if placing beauty just outside myself, a barrier arises between my soul and the dementia just beyond the fence.

Pots and plants and crystals and chimes and Tibetan bells that the wind plays like harps. Careful thought is given to the placement of certain things. An abandoned car tag and an old and dented Cadillac hubcap hung on a wall give a jaunty savoir faire to my huge prickly pear cactus tree. Other things are left to chance. A volunteer mulberry tree allowed to grow and flower finds a saucy Jeannie Taylor picking berries under the branches every year as part of her springtime rites. Another mulberry provides a different shade of green as backdrop to the bleeding heart with its riot of blossoms. The bleeding heart is from a twig I broke off Miss Alford's plant the last time I saw her looking over her shoulder at me with a flirty, girlish smile telling not to kill myself with work before she passed. Together, the pattern is joyous, an outside sign of my inside spirit - still hiding, waiting for safe times to come out.

So. Here I stand with this bird, both of us wounded; Summoning, coping, cooing. The bird does not protest until I try to place it in the basket, a Russian scarf on top, heating pad in the bottom. It looks like a package bound for market: Who will buy this bird? And who's coin is willing to buy me? I'm damaged goods, you know.

There always seems to be something unacceptable about me; something shopworn or broken in the eye of all the discriminating consumers who pass through the river of my life passing judgment on the goods, embarrassed by my peculiar standards of living. Don't they know they're at the bargain table where diamonds are hidden among the costume jewelry, Degas amongst the cheap paint-by-number art? I make the shoppers uncomfortable with my willingness to stare down the maw of the world.

"You'll starve without a job", they say. As if the dressmaking and the artwork I do seven days a week, often 16 hours a day to pay the bills is not work. And I keep planting pineapples, and limes, and pomegranates and eating fat tomatoes and squashes shamelessly making juicy life between my hibiscus and roses (the kind of roses I'm told that I'm not supposed to be able to grow here in Florida - I'm ALWAYS doing something that I'm not supposed to do according to the expert opinion of the great collective THEM out there). I cook up turnips, green beans I farm out of pots without help from DuPont, fry yams and bananas I grew with my own hands in real shit and sandy dirt. Now. I ask you, who's richer.

"You have no stocks, no savings", THEY say. But I'm a good and careful student and I see where history wipes out stocks and savings with a fickle overnight hand, authority takes up property through enclosure or feudalism in one form or another.

"Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty OR safety", Ben Franklin said. He said this between trysts with his mistresses. There IS no security except in holding this bird cupped in my hands. THAT is my job. THIS is my savings.

We're all so angry and embarrassed and guilty at/around the poor and ill. We don't want to look at them because there is this part of us that's afraid that we'll have to DEAL with poverty and illness on a personal level. If we don't LOOK at IT, IT will not exist , either in ourselves or in our worlds. It's like someone trying to pull out of the parking lot in front of you into traffic. If you don't make essential eye contact with the driver, you don't have to perform the small act of kindness and let them in. If we don't SEE a thing, we can deny its existence. The truth is we're ugly and cruel to our poor and our ill. We don't see that.

"How dare they be needy! How dare they be ill! If they would get up off their asses, there would be no homelessness, no malingering illnesses, no poverty". These are the people you can not argue with. They are fools. No amount of statistical information, hard data, empirical evidence or facts of the matter will change their minds because you have touched the Trudy place in them.

Trudy, the bag lady in "The Search For Intelligent Life In The Universe" is a latter-day intellectual. I think Trudy needs to be up there with Pliny, Aristotle, Descartes, Goethe - you know. All the big names in philosophy-subject-to-change in the world as it is. She knows that the spiffy dressed up women on the streets of New York can't look her in the eyes because they fear to see themselves in HER place.

"How dare they be needy! How dare they be ill! If they would get up off their asses there would be no homelessness, no malingering illnesses, no poverty".

We praise Mother Theresa and her ilk with, "Yes! Yes! YOU will take care of all of THEM! Let's let Mother Theresa do it"! Then we don't have to get our hands dirty with their nasty little wounds and their mewling sounds of poverty. Then we don't have to see by touching them how close we all are to becoming bag ladies; we don't need to deal with the poverty in our own souls at all.

"You're too fat...drink too much....take up too much time..pain me with your illness..." What I really do is awaken your fears. They are reflected in my eye and you see it. You can give it a name because you recognize it when the mirror I hold up shows it to you. You hold your fear cupped in your hands beneath your breast like this bird.

It's like when you stub your toe on Something Big that you forgot was there on the floor and your other foot has to hurry up and complete the dance step. You are angry at the Something Big that has the audacity to be where the sole of your foot should be. You are angry with me for showing your fear to you. Then don't look! Simply feel and see if YOU can tell the difference between the beating of the thing's heart and your own.

How many of us have died in the burning times and pogroms and wars and coups and police actions because a stranger was afraid to stand next to us and timidly question the humanity of it? It is easier to slink away, blaming the victim for our crimes as we go. This salves our consciousness yet leaves an edge of the truth sticking out from underneath it like a trail of toilet paper following a bathroom shoe.

All that said, should I become involved with this bird? I don't know because I never thought to ask the question before I did.

My home has become refuge for the halt and the lame of the world. They recognize me and come to me, Queen of the Lepers. I laugh when I see them. THIS is the City of Joy!

Here's Rachel, a 14 year old runaway victim on a bicycle headed for a destination on the other side of dangerous territory. I give her a ride through the war zone, some money, and very little advice. Her story is subject to change and her own interpretation. She is busy writing it now.

There is a solid black ball of fur with her eyes still closed. Newborn and as blind as I am with my trust when my neighbor hands her to me like a delivery room doctor. I am hooked. I am bonded. I don't NEED another mouth to feed! I bottle feed her night and day and try to determine if she's dog or bear or ape or otter. She favors all of these. When she finally opens her dark and milky eyes to the world and solemnly regards me, I know I have a dog here that will make something of herself.

Then there is this bird who felt the nature of me and settled into the hollow between my breast and clings to my fingers like branches with so much trust and for such a long time. He only protests when I put him in the Russian basket. Then, there is only me. Queen of the Lepers, Queen of the City of Joy.

It is the next day. I call all of the experts I know and ask how I heal this wounded bird. I tell them it's a juvenile, its mouth still large and comic and Hari Krishna yellow. It has taken to singing in the Russian basket by my bed when I talk to it. I laugh at the exuberance and encourage the song. We continue our conversation throughout the day.

Tina is a wetland scientist and can take the pulse of natural things. "Call the ornithologist at Lowery Park Zoo", Tina says after we mutually reject contacting a Grand Dame of the Audubon Society Tina knows of. We discuss it and agree that this is a woman best approached about birds at a charity ball when dressed in black and white peau de soie. Her field of expertise never takes her beyond the trees in upscale Beach Park. Never call her on a Sunday to ask about regurgitated worms for such a lowly creature such as this bird. It's not a member of some exotic, protected species. No flavor or cause celebre of the season discussed between socials and cocktail parties for the West Shore Registry.

I see by the light of the day that the wounded bird is a mockingbird male, plain and simple. Only the impersonal advice of some zoological medico will do. I call, am referred to an exotic bird care facility anyway. No. They do not know how to care for nor heal this simple and plain bird, but they'll tell me what to do nonetheless. I've been through this impotent road map of patronizing medical advice myself. This sounds familiar.

So. I mix up a paste concoction of fish food and canned Friskies and put pellets of it in the bird's huge Hari Krishna mouth. I'm awkwardly trying to find my own way to heal it. It is stunned into silence as I try to imitate a mother bird feeding her paste concoction of masticated worms. Tina told me to spit in it to help the digestive process.

But I cannot. I remind myself that I was spat on as I walked to the bus stop by three teenage boys driving around in a privileged car their parents bought for them with the proceeds of a stock portfolio and a medical practice. Needing to place me in their world, they laughed as they drove away. No. I will not spit in this bird's food.

I borrow a book from Shirley. I know that she'll have one when I call. She always has what I need on a shelf somewhere inside her house. She warns me against giving the bird water and recommends chopped up grapes and melon. I remember this. The advice that Shirley gives is always pitch on constructive.

I put the bird in a cage because I tried to free it this morning. It glided gracefully off of the porch to land in an awkward heap on the ground. I knew that the cats would be around for lunch soon. So. I put the bird in the cage. Not ready for flight just yet, he bows up, spreading his wings out to an impressive four inches to frighten me. Not ready for flight just yet. Not ready to fulfill the duties of being a bird. Me either. I cover the cage with the Russian scarf and say goodnight.

I am magic in my garden. I talk to birds that fly and land less than a yard away from my hand. I listen to their song to tell me who they are. "I'm over heee-rre", says the red winged black bird. "I know you are", I tell him. No ornithologist am I when I respond to "Pretty, pretty gir-rrl", from a flirty blue jay who lives in my bamboo. I laugh at the grackles that argue back and forth in the oaks. I called them the "Uh-huh, un-unk birds" until Martha told me they were grackles. Now I recognize their sporty brown feathered females and the iridescent black of the know-it-all males. I am never sure who wins their am-so, are-not arguments for it is all that they do. It concerns no one but themselves root and knob.

My magic touch extends to this quirk I have about breaking off twigs of this or that and having them take root and grow and transform when I stick it in the ground like Moses' staff. Everyone marvels at the lushness here. I take it for granted. Isn't nature supposed to be perfect? I expect it to be so. And it is.

I talk to the butterflies that land on my shoulder and pretend that I am Snow White trilling in a horrid falsetto for the huge dragonfly that lands on the finger that I hold up for her. She sticks with me anyway. I talk to the big brown wasp that traces circles on the back of my hand. I admonish him with, "I'll not harm thee nor thine if thee do no harm to me nor mine", as he writes his message with his path on my skin. Seven generations of possums have dined here and no longer scurry away like off-centered barrels when I open the door. I'm old news to them.

And one day not so long ago, when I was feeling very weak and very sick with the heavy metals that were coursing around my body in toxic levels at the time, I forced myself to get up out of the bed and put my shoes on. If I'd closed my eyes, I knew that I would have drifted off into a sleep from which no one wakes. I opened my back door and there scattered through the trees in my yard were dozens of vultures. There was a very large one perched on the grape arbor less than ten feet away. She spread her wings and began to back fan me. I could feel the breeze from her as she fanned and looked straight at me.

I always thought that angels should come for you when it's your time. All I got was a flock of vultures. I left the house and they rose up wheeling in large spirals overhead. Diana assures me that they were a symbol of the Great Mother in ancient literature and a sign of protection. I wasn't totally convinced. I also don't see the miraculous in all of this until it is pointed out to me.

I have been miraculous with this little wounded bird 'til now. The alarm goes off. The bird does not wake me up with the chirruping he set up all day yesterday in the Russian basket.

He is dead.

Did he like my Russian basket so like a cradle better? Did he die because I tried to cage his spirit the way others have tried to cage and define mine? Was the battering he took from the cats more than his frail little body and soul could take? It is all of these. It is is none of these.

He was a wounded bird.

(Ed. Note: The image is Mockingbird Baby, June 19, 2006 by Trisheroverton. The artist captured all the vulnerability that I wrote about in this single photo.)

1 comment:

Pam said...

I think you are a brilliant writer. Your story was very moving. I wanted to write something to help you understand how wonderful it was that you helped that little bird, but I am a terrible writer! So I asked my husband. Here is what he wanted me to tell you:

"There is a story from Jewish tradition, that in the beginning of creation the essence of God could not be contained by vessels that God used to contain it; the burst sprayed the universe with shards of Godness. It is believed that simple acts of loving kindness gather up the these shards and repair the world. Your actions in caring for a bird, a baby, one seen by others as insignificant gathered up a spark of Godness in the world. You have truly done the work that I believe the universe asks of us."

I hope this will be of some comfort to you.