–Artwork made for “The Big 200” of 2011– “Flightless”
(written early 2011)
I’m a janitor for a food warehouse. The warehouse carries all sorts of different foods, all securely bagged, boxed or bucketed. None too accessible to a bird. And yet they come. I can’t blame them, come fall and winter, when a birds life in Portland is mostly cold and wet, though they’ll come in year round, at random. So it is, every so often, a bird, some common bird like a sparrow, or a robin, or even a finch (and once a crow) flies inside the building. Everyone always tells me about it, because, for one, I’m the janitor, and I guess it’s up to the janitor to “do” something about it. The other reason they tell me is because they know I’ll get “worked up” over it. I suppose it’s a kick seeing me waving my arms around, clanging on racks with a broom-stick, yelling at and trying to work the bird back out the large garage doors they came through but are now oblivious to.
Years ago, the first bird that I had ever seen come into the building was found dead the next day. When that bird had come in, I had tried getting him out. What am I to do? The garage door he came in from was closed, and he had worked his way deep into the simple labyrinth of our building. So I opened the door. It’s a warehouse; I opened a few. This bird would come close, but then flutter frustratingly away from the door. Finally, after about an hour, and after amusing my coworkers with my antics, I gave up on that bird. “If he wants out, he’ll go out”.But the next day I found him dead on the warehouse floor. A little sparrow, eyes painfully squinted shut, nothing more than a half pound of beak, stiff feathered fluff, and curled feet. It broke my heart, because I gave up on the little bird, I hadn’t cared enough to ensure his safety. No one at work still understands. They say it’s the law of survival, or “what a stupid creature” and go about their business as a bird flits above them in vain.
So I’ve had this day dream. An analogy if you will.
The young bird has a rough life, no doubt. Maybe it’s winter and he should’ve flown away to warmer climates, maybe it’s great out but few pickings, or maybe it’s all about looking for the greener grass on the other side of somewhere. Then he sees it, a new kind of place, a cave that opens up to a whole other place –the bird has found something new and different. He flies in and notices all the places he can perch –look at all the places to nest–The idea of a dry, hospitable place, free from predators has to be compelling. He doesn’t immediately see food, but so what, this place is huge, so when the bird sees that the entrance to the cave has closed up (he’s not even sure where he came in), he’s not immediately concerned. How optimistic and spirited that bird must be for a while, happily fluttering around, watching all the attention the humans are giving him with their waving and chasing around. After a while, the humans don’t pay much attention to him, save for maybe one or two –and they can’t catch him, he arrogantly thinks.
The bird gets to looking around. It’s strange, because at times he can smell things that may be food, but he can’t find them. He watches the humans –they move boxes, some by hand, and some on their monsters lift bigger boxes with giant metal feet. There are no trees in this place. No shrubs, no bushes, no grass, not even dirt. He lands on the ground, it’s hard like some kind of polished stone. And clean, so clean, not even a bug is to be found. What is there to eat? What time is it? Is it day still? It seems likes it’s day in this cave all the time. He looks from ground to sky, and sees no sun, just many bright but pale imitations of the sun. He can actually fly to them, sit above the box they’re in, and he can’t feel their heat. This place is so cold here. He feels neither the cold of night or the heat of the day. And still no food. Maybe by this time it’s been a day, maybe it’s more. This little bird is possibly a bit scared now. Every so often he’ll hear a roar, and from the distance he’ll see the cave open up, but when he gets there, another large monster (a semi truck) will be blocking it, or the humans and their monsters will be there, in the way. So hungry.
At this point in the story, it can go a couple ways. For every bird that’s come in, I’ve seen it go different ways, and so the story develops on. This story can have the abrupt end. A bird, little or not, needs a good deal of food to stay alive and healthy, because they have a fast metabolism. Without getting very resourceful and lucky, the bird is found within days, starved to death. Now there’s times that the humans will get sloppy. Something will break, a box or a parcel, and it’s contents will go spilling out. They clean it up, but what is negligible to them could be a meal or two to a bird. A few grains from a bag of rice just might be enough for a bird to get by, at least for a while. Sometimes the humans spook them right towards the doors, they feel the open air again, and are thankful and never go back to that Godforsaken place. Unfortunately, there are those who never learn. Some birds figure out how to “make a living”. The humans quit shouting at them, waving their arms and swinging brooms at them in attempts to oust them or kill them, they suppose. They scrounge through the piled up dust bunnies in corners, between palettes, between boxes and bags placed high in the rack perches –they find food, obviously they find enough food to say “we’ll never go back, this is our way.”, going so far as to going back out and bringing in their mate.
After a while, God just lets you live by your own power. He sends you strong delusion, and you believe your life to be the truth, the way you were was the lie.
I guess that’s the thing. There are ways that seems right, but it’s ways lead to death. Some birds see their folly– they see the humans yelling at them as a fearful sign, and leave as soon as they can. Some birds have a hard time finding their way, but with some help and a bit of providence, they feel the sun on their feathers again. Some birds know they’ve gone wrong and die trying to get out. That bird I found the next day — I took him outside, laid him on the grass, left him there for nature to take care of his body. Those birds who try living inside soon find out the “comfort” of living this way is to compete with mice and rats for dropped morsels of food, and it’s an animal eat animal world. Sometimes bodies aren’t found. If my coworkers or I find their mummified bodies they get thrown in the garbage. Sheol.
Take from this what you will.
This year I had a dream involving birds.As with most of my dreams, there was some stuff in front of this that I can’t remember that happened, I’m just stuck with the most poignant parts I guess.
I appear to work at a warehouse grocery store, and I’m watching a group of store workers chase something across the floor that’s darting back and forth from isle to table to bulk bin. I think that at first it’s probably a mouse though I can’t seem to see it all that well. I move to the front of the ruckus — they’re all funning with me like they know how I am about animals– and they back off to let me have a try, watching in amusement. I bend down, ready to cup it with both hands from out of it’s hiding spot. I see nothing but a white blur, but suddenly it’s in my hands and everyone cheers gleefully, like someone just made a game winning catch. I stand up and start walking towards the outside with the creature, not having looked at what’s in my hands, although at this point I’m realizing it’s no small mouse.
I step outside –the rain has stopped, the air fresh and cool, the sun’s coming out. I look down, and in my hands what I thought was a white mouse is actually a white headed, green bodied bird of some kind. It’s almost like one of those champion pigeons, the ones with the large breasts but this bird is almost a parrot green, with a budgie kind of beak. I have both hands clasped around him, but not grasping so tightly as he cannot move. But he doesn’t move. He sits comfortably in my hands as if to say, “thank you so much for getting me out of there –I had a lot of food there (and the bird is fat), but I wasn’t happy. I was hoping someone would catch me. I’m enjoying this weather just fine in the confines of your hands, thank you very much”
I open my hands, but he sits comfortably in my palms, calm and happy, chewing on the cheek of seed he still has. I leave work for the day, wondering if the bird will stay with me, if he’ll sit on my shoulder now, and for the rest of his life, and wondering what he’d like to eat.
—This year I was introduced to the album “Give me Rest” by HANDS. To put it in the words of their vocalist Shane Ochsner:
“Give Me Rest” is about my struggle with my faith, and my struggle to call myself a true believer. It’s about starting over, and actually seeking God with all of your heart. Taking your roots and planting them at the foot of the cross. Understanding that His vision is so much bigger than anything our tiny little minds could ever understand.”
You can purchase this album from http://facedownrecords.com/