Sunday, May 25, 2008

Birds and other animals

I am looking for the right language—the precise language—of birds, for example. Or of that bird—that specific bird, that single starling which, though it saw me approaching, dove onto the side of the sidewalk to grab a little worm and, grasping it tightly in it’s yellow bill, flew up to safety just as I passed by the site of the worm’s last.

That bird..a forgotten language as Merwin has said. That individual bird.

a. Is it possible?
b. Is it possible for me?

I liked the Raven King in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell...but then, he was not a bird and the birds didn't talk in that book.

An aside…I seem inclined NOT to do what I intend to do in my writing. It would be nice if I could find that secret avian lingo, but I seem to always be finding instead that mystery thing, that place where I feel we cannot pass, where we are blocked. I cannot write a bird talking. I can only write that bird as something whose talking we can never quite hear.

Another aside…Starlings are gorgeous and gorgeously reflective—we can only sort of see them. Their feathers reflect enormous amounts of UV light. We cannot see this, we do not really see them, but other starlings and other birds do. Bees also see UV.

Aside No. 3…Starlings are not native to the United States. They were released in 1890 and 1891 into NY’s Central Park by Eugene Schieffelin. He wanted to populate the U.S. with every bird ever mentioned in any bit of William Shakespeare’s writing. He only succeeded with the starling

When he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.
[1st Henry IV – I, 3]

Aside 4…this is why (in case you are wondering) many ecologists dislike these birds…they are what is termed invasive. But, to prevent another aside, I will not go into my rant about the inappropriateness of such loaded terms when applied by humans onto other organisms that we moved around the world ourselves.

Final aside...In case Shakespeare hadn't tipped you off, pet starlings are excellent mimics. They are complex communicators and there is a study that suggests that starlings are capable of recursion--something, according to linguists, necessary for language construction. They have amazing songs and I saw one singing and waving his wings in circles the other night, it made me smile. [We were, in fact, waiting outside to pick up our tickets for the very nice Shearwater show and I think you should listen to their new album Rook. ]

I tend to fragment. It is my way of qualifying, of bowing down, of trying to be as careful as possible, or perhaps, of trying to get as much of the various voices in my head heard (one says…this….and the other says…that…) Wittig says we women feel the need to justify our presence in the social realm, is that what I am doing? I certainly apologize a lot.

What I’m reading and listening to…Just finished Midwinter Day and will finish Roper’s witch book tonight. You’ll notice I am slow. I am thinking about our relationship to children…or mine. I had a nice day with mine which was a relief because I’ve been pretty cranky lately.

In the witch book, the children they thought were evil were put away for more than a year. This was near the end of the witching trials and the whole nature of the accusations and trials were shifting and breaking apart (this is, says Roper, why the children became the possessors of evil rather than those possessed by evil ones (old ladies)). Here were some ideas they came up with—limit the kids food (one child’s mother apparently starved her to death), beat the kids several times a week, make the kids sleep during the day and stay awake at night for the devil is most active at night—unfortunately, this last approach seemed to lead to an increase in fantasy and susceptibility not a decrease. They were released finally, back in the families that turned them over to the court in the first place…fearing their evil natures (silica and excrement). Masturbation was difficult for the adults to deal with as were the little games of Christ on the Cross (With real piercings). How do you put your mind here. Something reminds me of Realms of the Unreal—a line to and through Darger?

Anyway, Midwinter Day’s children are very alive. The book made me think of how much language is being lost in our house as we just try to survive and do the best we can.

How do we get to this difference, where every little moment with the children matters so...from that place of knives in the mattress and children behind locked doors?

Have you heard of Opal Whiteley’s diary? I stumbled on it reading a children’s book we’d picked up at the library. The diary is either true or not, but is intriguing to me as I am starting to get back interested in Americana of the period between 1800 and 1950. I also have a book of excerpts from the diaries and journals of pioneer woman so we’ll see.

I’ve got that German witch blood, the blood of folks in their covered wagons and those loggers all mixed around. There’s some kind of intersection that is trying to make itself heard. It’s easy to dismiss them all as part, or all, of the problem.

We’ll see.


Teresa Carmody said...

I love that green, spotted breast.

Amina said...

I think it's better to write a bird as something we can never quite hear, or at least never quite understand the rich mystery of their talking.

Yes, the green, spotted breast is beautiful!

I very much like this post. The startling details of the starlings, and then the strange ones about witches and children.

"Is it possible for me?"