Atop a razor thin wire thirty feet above my head, nineteen blackbirds are perched, resolutely, zombie-like, side by side by side, as if waiting for the bus. Their balance is perfect, so self-assured that most appear to be asleep standing up, the skimpy thread bowing under their combined weight but under no threat of ripping. Forked talons curve artfully around the wire, one by one by one in a straight line until no more talons are left to be seen, and I wonder why there aren’t an even twenty of these beasts.
I count again.
Above their heads the sky is a dusky blue, shot through with pale sunlight, in places hollowed out by the expanse of creamy clouds. There is no breeze as I sit on a park bench looking unabashedly at these denizens of the air, but they sit in place, content to play possum instead of spreading their wings and taking flight. I want to make a loud noise just to see if they will react. I want to scream them into action because I can’t do the same in my own little insulated world.
I sit here silently instead.
Are these birds ravens, like the storied birds of literative lore, or the much maligned crows that often darken doorsteps with their shadow-like precision? Or maybe they’re the infamous birds of the apocalypse, the souls of demons dressed up in outer ebony plumage, waiting patiently for the world to end. I watch as other birds drift past, but not one stops to join this horizontal conference thirty feet above my head. I wonder if this is evidence of some kind of winged etiquette, or a collaborative clique, a nearly extinct class system come home to roost.
I wonder if they will ever move.
I know I have somewhere else to be, something in my world that requires a particular kind of attention, but that doesn’t seem to matter right now. Instead I am engaged in a waiting competition of sorts, an intricate game of chicken where my opponents are actual birds. Quite rare indeed. They might as well be dead up there; they’re certainly dressed for it without even trying, these harbingers of a world bereft of color, sitting stolidly, impossibly, on a tiny wire.
I too am black.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the one on the far left shakes a tail feather, then two, then its entire tail is in motion, a plane motor kicking into gear. Seconds later it is gone, taken to the air in a blur of feathers and a sudden motivation that is impossible to gauge. The next one in line begins to stir moments later, an echo of its brother, already lost to the air, and the clouds, and the rest of the sky. Then he too is gone just as quickly, and I have already forgotten what he looked like, even though he was here for what seemed like an eternity. Seventeen blackbirds on the line, but they are no longer still.
I watch them take flight.
It is dizzying, staring up into the sky for so long, neck craned back to take it all in without missing a beat, but I couldn’t move if my life depended upon it. This is my world, and I am world leader pretend. And I can’t help but feel like a part of me is fracturing as one by one by one they leave, as everyone has always left me before, as they will all leave me again. It was a false comfort, those inattentive birds, as they sat like stone for so long, but they were never going to stay. Just like the raven iconically quoted, “Nevermore.”
The wire vibrates as the last blackbird releases its grip, hurtling itself into the cloud-strewn sky like a rocket taking flight. I follow the line as it undulates in a rhythmic pattern, then begins to slow down the longer the birds are gone, until it stops completely, as if the winged creatures were never there.
I open my eyes and realize they weren’t.
The sun disappears too soon
Fading beyond the frayed horizon
But the stars don’t want to play
Locked into a self-imposed jail
Hiding beneath this dark canopy
Of undeveloped sky
While the moon sits high
Looking down on a humanity
It can’t help imitating
In its competitive stance
In this unrepentant dance
Between fractured souls
Dreaming under a great abyss
Breathing in perfect rhythm
With the ebony angels, skeletal,
Shallow like the shadows
That embrace before dissipating
Bringing with them a second day
A second sun that tempts and teases
Unencumbered by the passage of time
Lost between a shudder and a sigh
Like saving daylight in fall
When the light fluctuates by design
Coloring in the shy twilight
With broad brushstrokes
Pushing aside the twinkling stars
Like thick curtains in a house
Where voices echo forever.
These storms come heavy
Moody like jazz
Fat drops in rhythm
Pounding down steady
A slash of lightning
Brilliant as day
But only for a moment
Before thunder booms
Like a pounding bass
Echoing for miles
Desperate to get home
But lost along the way
This Oklahoma swoon
Shackled to night’s shadow
Haunting in its familiarity
Giving up the ghost
That shuffles down stairs
Into the street-slick city
Calling my name
A staccato beat
That drums like rain
This endless refrain.
I walked today for the first time in a long time — just walked. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it was just time, but I got out there with no destination in mind — me and my camera — seeing what I could find, but really just to get a breath of fresh air. Now, I’m not an outdoors person by any stretch of the imagination, quite the contrary, but there’s something about mindless meandering that appeals to me.
There were others out, but no one else was just walking. I passed by a porch where three ladies were sunning themselves and chatting as if they had been sitting there all day long. Maybe they had. Porch sitters are pretty popular around here, especially in the springtime. An older man drove past on his motorcycle and waved to me. At least I hope he was waving to me because I waved back. And a teenager passed me on the bridge and said hi. He was definitely talking to me because I was the only other person around.
I’ve lived in this village for nearly 13 years now so it’s interesting how most people I ran into today were people I never recalled seeing before in my life. Maybe that’s testament to how often I simply drive through instead of taking it on foot. Or perhaps that’s because I honestly don’t get out much. A while back I used to jog, but that was probably 7 years ago, and the people who would have been sitting on the porch are probably inside by the TV while the next generation has moved onto the porch.
By the time I got down to Main Street my legs were tired, and I walk all day, but someone told me once that if you walk the same course every day your body gets used to it. So my walking a bit extra, at a different time, on a different tack, woke up my legs, and they were not very happy with me. But I breathed in the air, and exhaled it, and I felt good. I wanted to stay out there and soak up the sun some more. Don’t tell my wife because she will try to get me to do yard work, but you know what I mean. I felt ALIVE.
Maybe it’s all this talk of death lately, or maybe it’s just me getting older, but I savored the experience, and I took photographs of several spots along the way that spoke to me. I think I might do it again later this week, or I’ll talk the kids into doing it with me like we did on a nice day a few weeks ago. There’s nothing quite like it.