Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Take the Back Roads for the Views

I don’t talk much, usually, and
hardly at all in the morning.
I enjoy the sensation of emptiness in my mouth.
Words eddy and pool;
they submerge my larynx, so my thoughts can swim.

I live in a woodframe house, and wake with windows open. There are birds’ songs, and the dragon-y exhalations
of an early hot air balloon dropping into the adjacent mowed hayfield. My head is still clouded by dreams,
images of past and future,
people I’ve lost, including me – 
The balloon comes near, the birds go silent.
My tinnitus whines,
there is only so much of Time.

I keep an appointment near a large stone church, with a clock that rings the hours and half-hours. I hear the hourly chime, then the dongs: ten this hour.
Each dong is allowed to spread out and thin
before the next is struck, so reaching ten takes more than the moment to read time on my cell phone –
maybe enough to watch it turn from 10:00 to 10:01.
My breathing slows with the dissipations of the dongs. I feel something then,
an awareness, a sensation
of being pushed by the pace of my life,
pushed right out of the space and the time I take up within it.

I drive the back roads.
Over a sea of wheat, three clouds,
long white rafts in the sky, all going my way: home.
My thoughts take a back road too
-- I’m thinking about the movie “A Single Man”; I’m thinking how little I wish to be in his position.
Pressing on --

An oncoming car strikes a Gray Catbird; I watch it roll across the windshield and tumble to the double yellow line. Hoping it might only have been stunned, I turn back to move it off the road. On approaching, I see another Catbird come, sit on the ground near for a moment, then fly off.

The Catbird is limp but warm, soft; its eyes still bright though unfocussed, slowly closing and growing dull. It is all
in a slatey gray, with some russet at the vent,
and a tiny bright spot of blood on one leg.
Its life left;
that’s what I saw unfold in my hands.
What did the other bird see?

Another creature might not see the body at all,
not as the being, just as more of the world’s matter.
When animals regard a dead body, some
seem not to see the body once the life has gone; others possibly do.
I wonder if this shouldn’t be part of the nomenclature of a species,
the way the mammary glands give a name to our class of animal:
We are the ones that mark time and the endings of hours;
we cling to our matter even as we rush headlong away.

I know the road and the flocking there.
Because the other birds are watching, I put out of my mind
the thought of photographing or taking home the bird to study it. I can
do nothing but put the bird safely at the base of a tree, and continue home.

Outside, I walk
past blueberry bushes to the pasture.
A Catbird is being pestered by her four fledglings,
all pretending to need her help feeding.
She lifts from the fence rail to a tree's branch to scold.

left: sumi ink; right: drypoint with graphite

sumi ink, 3.5 x 5 inches

sumi ink, 16 x 20 inches

oil on masonite, 4 x 5.5 inches

pencil drawing

oil on panel, 10 x 8 inches
[All the above bird studies were executed during the 1980s, when I lived in San Francisco and made frequent visits to Ocean Beach, the western perimeter of the city.]


  1. So many beautiful observations and thoughts. I am especially struck by your observation that some creatures might not see bodies once the life has gone out of them. And your bird drawings are sensitive and touching.

    1. Altoon, thank you. I want to put a couple more drawings of birds here, but they are older and I need to scan the slides -- (I need to learn how to scan the slides first!).


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