It’s Its Own Thing

On our walk last night, birds,
low in the trees and on the ground,
in the grass and all around,
and it started to rain.

Tomorrow, it may be sunny.
It takes many shapes, this thing.
Sometimes it’s an ear ringing,
a particle of physics.

It is not Paris or San Francisco,
certainly not El Paso or Cairo.
It comes and goes like wind,
ubiquitous and protean.

It’s not me, though
I often have it, or not.
That’s just it with it;
you never know for certain.

It is a professional, white-collared
without capital, contained
out of site.
When it decides to rain,

not a thing you can do about it,
except dance or hustle home,
from which you want
to get away from it all.

Winter as a Long Vowel

Snow and ice week beats desire, a cold game victory, the spoils spoiled despoiled as even the oils freeze on the street beneath freezing rain, snow, sleet, silver saxophone east three day blow, again with uncertainty freezing rain, then maybe greater snow, the icy home burial, the grave diacritical signal code, the skein stripe heated bellows, below freezing, icicle phase. He’s now showing kinesics of hypothermia, that fellow, up in the trees. Snow shapes blanket the trees, in the wood where wooed we Saint Valentine’s Day, nestling the soft sounds of love, the warmth of feathers. What birds want out, let them fly. Herein we stay with wise advice, waiting for Spring.

False Start

Darts – birds hitting their marks. Feathers painted in plastic. Flickers, scrub-jays. Black gloss enameled crows. Black capped chickadees. Bushtits. The sorrowful hot guitar trill of a song sparrow. They voice the old songs, their beaks cracked, worn plectrums. A few sit still on a telephone wire while another takes a solo. To-wit. To-hoo. Clack, clack, clack.

The Apostrophe of Waiting

You took away the source, but it was some graffiti, as I recall, but now in the grog of morning’s woke fog, I forget what it said, but one of the words was missing an apostrophe, crowds, I think, should have been crowd’s. The crowd is awaiting its apostrophe. So something is missing, the elemental that connects. That’s the meaning of apostrophe – an elision, but more, to turn, to turn away (from), even as things merge, as in a crowd. The apostrophe, like a stray bird, lands in the nest of merged things, its meld. The crowd is awaiting its possession, what it wants, its melt and weld. Also, the apostrophe that is an address to a missing person, one who has been turned away, or is turning away from another, as the crowd disperses. Waiting’s apostrophe. Waiting for the bird that has flown to return. As the crowd scatters, like birds, each one turning away from their neighbor, coming apart, each now a new apostrophe looking for a new gathering, a new mustering, a levy of birds, where they can drop into place to satisfy the whole. And today’s crowd of words is punctuated by the police, steel pot helmeted commas out to enforce the gravity of grammar, but they seem unable to put a stop to the run-on sentences.

Birdbrain, Bird-witted, and more on Thought

Reflecting yesterday afternoon on my morning post, “On the Coast Starlight,” in which I suggested thought, if we are to try to compare it to anything, seems more bird-like than the train of thought first found in Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 “Leviathan,” I thought, to force thought onto a track where ideas are coupled one after another in forward motion toward some predetermined destination results from printing press technology, as McLuhan has shown. Thinking like a train does produce advantages, but the linear notion of thought may put us in a cage. Then it came to me that a reader might have commented that I seem birdbrained.

Since I’ve had comments and likes off for recent posts, no such reader was able to suggest it, so I’ve come forward to suggest it myself. (Readers intent on comment, like, or dislike, btw, will find an email address at the bottom of the Toad’s About page.)

But why we have come to disvalue flightiness to the extent we have, I’m not sure. Birdbrain, according to Google Ngram, is a word product of the second half of the 20th Century, while bird-witted has a more storied past, with interesting spikes of usage in both the 1720s and the 1820s.

I readily agree that my brain seems to be more bird-like than train-like. But upon discussion with Susan, she informs me that only the hummingbird is able to fly backward. Trains, of course, can travel forward or backward, but not at the same time. Yes, but trains can’t leave the track (except to switch to another track), and two trains running in opposite directions on the same track – well, in a quantum train world, perhaps a train may indeed run forward and backward at the same time. In any case, the intelligence of birds is not in question. The question is whether to think like a bird offers the human any advantage over thinking like a train. But we are only speaking to the metaphors, of course, because of course trains don’t actually think at all, and people don’t and can’t and will never think like birds any more than they’ll be able to fly like a bird.

It’s probable that in the era of trains, people did think more like trains than bird-like, while before artificial locomotion was mass produced, people thought more like other animals think. Now, people no doubt think more like automobiles. And we might update Hobbes to suggest an automobile of imagination.

The poet Marianne Moore, in her poem “Bird-witted,” leaves no doubt that to think like a bird is to think like a human:

parent darting down, nerved by what chills 
  the blood, and by hope rewarded -  
of toil - since nothing fills 
  squeaking unfed 
mouths, wages deadly combat, 
and half kills 
    with bayonet beak and 
    cruel wings, the 
intellectual cautious- 
ly creeping cat.
The last stanza of “Bird-witted,” from The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, Penguin, 1982, p. 105-106.
Photo: Susan and Chicken, Culver City, circa 1952.