VIII.

Fiction / Janice Lee

On one particular day, there is a bird flying south while singing a serenade. The bird does not have a partner but it sings anyway, and as he has abstained from eating for the past 3 days, it feels faint and weak and beautiful in a way it never imagined possible. It passes laundry hanging on a line, and though it may just be a big misunderstanding, decides that life is utterly unfair, and isn’t sure what to do as in the blink of an eye and while he continues to fly south, imagines an asteroid flattening everything it sees in front of him, the laundry hanging on a line, a cauterized and flexible landscape over which he continues to fly. Fairly, he is fair. Fairly, he switches direction and flies due west and then starts to laugh (perhaps the bird does not know to laugh and perhaps birds do not laugh at all or have no laughter or mimic our laughter or have no concept of laughter or were the ones to have taught laughter to the rest of the world) and laughs more loudly, jovially and understands now that life is limited and that the landscape is limited and because fragmentation is inevitable, he flies straight into a turbine.

Some of the birds seem to be huddling together and everyone watches them, and in the act of watching huddling birds, the tiny bodies huddling close together for warmth and intimacy and for the act of touch, for just that moment one can appreciate the great vastness and strangeness of the entire world around them, stretch our one’s fingertips and feel the air that slices and discloses in a wholly unfair frigid cold or warmth, listen to the silence, the silence beneath the silence, the silence beneath the silence beneath the noise beneath the wild, wild noise, feel the sidereal rhythm that guides one’s body and sees, continues to see, continues to look past the birds and to assert the loss of one’s entire world, and for just that moment, realize what it is to be a body without a world.

It is the humans that don’t know how to be lost anymore. They tell themselves that everything will be all right, and yet they can’t help but watch the birds intently and closely and religiously to see what they might be able to tell us about themselves in the way we wish to know more about ourselves but are too afraid to ask those questions, too afraid to look any further than the birds huddled together in the park at night. It’s a strange thing, how closely the human will study the habits of birds, animals, their own pets, picking up after their dogs and grabbing the feces with a plastic bag, putting their faces up fairly closely to the foul-smelling brown matter and investigating with a scientific eye, holding it at various angles and smooshing it around with their fingers and then nodding as if by this gesture they can proclaim, Yes, everything is as it should be. But of course no one looks inside their own toilet before flushing. No one bothers to clean the dust accumulating beneath their bed. No one bothers to investigate the matter stuck under their fingernails before washing it down the drain. No one bothers to smoosh around the used coffee grounds with their fingers before throwing them in the trash.

Sometimes the vagrants only know where to sleep according to the birds. The birds perched on the lamppost give hope, they have decided. The birds lined up neatly in even increments, perched so calmly and intentionally. They give hope that there is order. That they are watching. That they persist. And are content. Others try to remind themselves to feel more lost, to allow themselves to wander a bit more, but there are proper procedures and necessary routes and we all quickly go back to the habit of routine.

The birds are everything, aren’t they? One woman asks her husband.

They’re just birds, he responds.

We have a reason to keep on going one more day, don’t we? she asks again.

There are birds, and then there are us. I don’t see how that’s related, he answers.

She doesn’t stop watching the birds. Because in some sense it is a recourse for her own lamentation, and when her heart stops still and she feels, as if a lump of earth, small and burdened, she can see the birds gather and disperse, gather and disperse, and when there is a sound, she doesn’t need to ask the question, Who has spoken?

A single bird fluttering its tail feathers while sitting on a line above the street. The wind chimes barely pause. Rustling leaves.

There is only one pigeon sitting on the sign today where yesterday there were two.

Pigeons gathering in the trees and rooftops to watch the cats gathering around a pile of food on the sidewalk.

A pigeon swoops down from a lamppost to land next to the foot of a man waiting at the bus stop. The man notices nothing out of the ordinary.

A large bright area in the sky, brightness and orange light protruding outwards from behind the line of trees. Dogs barking. A bird flutters its wings and lands on a wire to sit still. A single dog still barking.

How do the birds know to keep such even space between them, all lined up in a row, all lined up so neatly?

One bird perched upon a lamppost. One bird perched upon a wire hanging above the lamppost.

The pigeon looks at the ground, its entire genealogy in a speck of dirt, a crumb, another crumb, a march towards the next spectrum of relief.

How do you bridge the gap between pigeons?

The birds, like ghosts, haunt every nook and cranny of the city.

The next morning, the woman tries another question and asks her husband, What kind of bird is that?


Excerpt taken from Imagine a Death, a novel-in-progress.

Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). She writes about the filmic long take, slowness, interspecies communication, the apocalypse, and asks the question, how do we hold space open while maintaining intimacy? She is Editor of the imprint #RECURRENT for Civil Coping Mechanisms, Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy, and Assistant Editor at Fanzine. After living for over 30 years in California, she recently moved to Portland, Oregon and teaches at Portland State University.