November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written in November 2006, minor edits in July 2013.
Let me tell you about bird. About feathers itching beneath skin, rustling atop skin, beak replacing nose-mouth-teeth, scale-crust legs. Let me share flight, soaring. Hunting, diving, watching. Always watching. Let me tell you of the shift, the change.
First is a hollowness in the mouth. Upper palate expanding, stretching, elongating. Tongue is a stubby calloused thing, useless for speech, even when thoughts manage to form words. Lips, what are lips? Hardened and retracted, a thin membrane across the upper of bone-teeth-beak.
The arms are next. Wings. Arms resisting forward movement, fingers stretching to unbending length. Shoulder socket rotating back, limb-lengths all wrong, all disproportionate. I am off balance, disoriented. The arm-wing-limbs stretch back, behind me some, and now out a bit at the sides for balance. Confused, and aching, shoulder click-click-clicking as body and mind disagree on what’s what and where and how.
Or sometimes it starts with feathers. Itching beneath the skin, all over, like needles trying to poke their sharpened heads through the surface of arms-sides-back-neck. Claw at it, like molting, like shedding; in the oddest times, the most detached, when bird-mind clicks over and human-mind stills, when logic fades, when rationale simmers into nothing – then I bite, claw; the mind that is not bird and not human and yet both in a confused dissociated manner says ‘open up the skin, let it out; there is something beneath my skin that wants-needs-must come out!’ but it won’t, I know this, I have tried, for other reasons and in other times. There is only red beneath the surface, and that is the same for bird and human.
Sometimes the legs join in, too, making walking difficult, awkward. On the toes now, because the foot is shaped wrong; balls of the feet is right is natural is normal, and it’s not the balls I’m walking on because this is the foot’s sole, what do you mean I’m on tip-toe? Legs like the arm-wings, disproportionate, turned wrong, they’re supposed to fold this way, and it’s not supposed to be so long from this joint to that, and it’s supposed to be longer from that joint to this. Toes curl, become claws; agitation rakes the earth, or the insides of wrong-fitting shoes, clenches as if to grasp tree limb or skittering mouse.
But the mouth-to-beak, that is always there. Not always the feathers, or the legs, or the wings, but always the hollowing palate, so easily summoned, or coming unasked for, or unwanted. It’s easy to pull on the change, just a closing of the eyes, a remembering. Beak, feathers, flight… bird. The essence of hawk. In my mind-sense it is this: a shrieking cry, rustled feathers, light body and ruffled warmth; sharp gaze, sharp sight, senses on alert; a soaring, a silence, a knowing of movement, hypersensitivity to motion – watching, wary, always alert. Sunshadow soaring on the wind.
It doesn’t always come from willing it, this change. Often it’s for no reason, or any reason, unbidden; a sudden awkwardness as limbs change, and I have to grasp tight to the human in me, mind-thought grappling with a slippery elusive core, that rationale, a logic-reason-emotion that is only human. Tight to the feeling of human: arms and bare skin, mobile mouth, talkative tongue, words words words, terms and names and thinking always thinking so much thinking, push away the instincts because I don’t need them can’t afford them not now, not here.
Sometimes I don’t succeed; the bird wins out and I am perching, on couch or stone or chair, and if I’m lucky I’m outside, and there aren’t many people around or only people who know, and there’s no ceiling-walls-cage, and the bird-panic and fright-flight that comes from crowds-enclosure-entrapment-chaos doesn’t send me into the wide-eyed gaping-beaked gasping incoherancy of needing to flee to fly but unable to because these wings don’t work, are only arms, and I must get out…
Those are the bad shifts, the panicky shifts. Of sudden claustraphobia where human has no problem with it, or the choice between fight-or-flight, too often turning to flight because bird is not a fighter, only a hunter, and the prize here is not high enough, not valuable enough, or there is no prize; it’s not my territory. But corner me, or go after what I consider mine – friends, possessions sometimes but usually people – and fight wins out, and claws spread. Bird is territorial, possessive: “this is mine, this will not be taken, this is mine!”
But there are good shifts too. Out in forest, cliffside, ridgetop, seventh floor balcony: the wind rustles in hair-feathers-wings, pushing up, so easy to spread wings and reach out, jump out, soar; so hard to resist, sometimes, as the sky calls and the longing that is rooted in human because only human can long thus, but it’s inspired by bird and flight-memory, the longing aches as deep as the drop below. Or at ritual, the energy workings drawing bird out to see, experience, be – and those are the best of all, full contentment, settled with chestfeathers fluffed, watching still but this time without wariness or predatory interest; just being. Contentment, so rare, so precious.
And there is flight; how could I not mention flight? Bird takes no wonder in flight; this is normal, this is survival, this is hunting. Riding the wind, watching the earth, alert. But this is new to human, or if not new then still marvelous, treasured even if it comes only in dreams and meditation. Flight is bliss, feathers rustling, perfect control with the slightest movements; circling, soaring, wings spread. And then, ever-alert gaze spotting movement and wings follow, fold, dive – wind screaming, eyes squinting, claws clenching, and the wings snap open at the last moment, thunderclap simultaneous with rabbit-squeal, talons digging and grasping and the glide ending at last, and wings mantle, hood the warm still body, mine, and as the beak tears in precise quick neat bites, the eyes still watch, ever vigilant, ever alert.
This is bird, in shifts and dreams and thought. This is me, human and feathered, bird and skin.