Like a throbbing bead waiting in a velvet box, or a tumor crowding honest flesh out of the way, or a perfect speckled egg in a tight moss nest, the magnet readied itself in her brain, just exactly where – through bone and forehead wrinkles – her third eye would be.
She knew already that she had the third eye, because something as slight as a stray hair from her bangs, pointed for a nanosecond at that part of her forehead, brought an intense feeling of centering. With her eyes closed, in the dark, someone could experimentally point a pencil closer and closer to that third eye spot, never touching the fine hairs, and she would know that it was there.
She amused herself sometimes, lying in bed – what else was there to do? – by bringing her forefinger slowly toward her forehead until she could feel the prickle, the feeling that the reptile in her head had woken up. Ah! there it was. This time, would the snake strike at her finger? Could she, that way, travel back 40,000 years to sing in a cave?
On Not To See a Bird. The noodles boil to paste, blacken, catch fire. She comes home and throws the pot into the snow, a hissing startled crow. Upstairs, she finds him asleep, eyes clenched to the plumes of acrid smoke. She slides beside him, has dreams—acres of corn-stalk, winter rag—pinioned by the wing of his arm.
Oh, no, she was on to something. She’d spent seven decades trying to find the direction, the point on the map where she should fly.
Like a bird with a magnet in its brain, like a homing pigeon, she had burst from her cage on a roof and flown in circles for years.
Home kept changing; where was home?
Is a roost always in the same place? Why did a male chicken get to be the roost-er? Why not the hen? Would she have to become a rooster, in order to find her real home, the home inside her brain?
Could she excite the reptilian magnet, the heavy like-a-ball-of-mercury orb of her third eye, so that it would point to due happiness?
Cartogram. The green cut to tan—textures of a grocery bag—the rivers bluer, counties wider. They opened out, out there, thoughts losing the yellow gridwork of cities, marked with the spare periods of desert towns. You are here? she wrote, across the legend, waiting 5, 10, 100 miles for an answer.
Again she thought about all she had learned about birds during her life. Forget the stuff that didn’t pertain, that didn’t really interest her. Here were the things that she found compelling:
1. The blue feathers of a bird, be it blue jay or kingfisher, get their color from the sky. No bird is really blue. Blue is the presence of scattered light and what? imagination? desire?
2. Pigeons, albatrosses, and hummingbirds have a small magnetic center in their brains which helps them keep track of magnetic north and its opposite, south, and its outstretched wings -- east and west. It is possible, speculated one scientist, that humans have this magnet too.
3. Chickadees can live 12 or more years. Each year, the part of their brain that records where they stored seeds and berries, in little pocks and crevices, dies and regrows, empty of information. How could a chickadee, without accounting practices or Microsoft, keep track of seeds buried in 2006 and since eaten or hidden in 2008 and still there to be eaten?
4. A crow can be quite shy, and will wait in a tree, politely, for the sparrow to leave the feeder. But rare is the sparrow who attends the feeder by himself.
5. If a bird flew overhead and shat its stream of liquid excrement on your head, this will be called good luck.
6. A tree full of turkey vultures is a tree streaked with white splatterings, gallons of it. It is also a noisy tree as they settle in at deep dusk – the sound of leathery wings beating like the wings of Da Vinci’s helicopter to lower their heavy bodies onto the roosting limbs. The slightest noise can make half of them fly up out of the tree, and it is like hearing a motorcycle gang strip off their leathers for a fight.
7. You can kill a baby bird by feeding it too many worms. Its belly will swell, and burst, and the baby will die a horrible death that you don’t know how to halt or hasten.
8. A trumpet vine thrilling with orange trumpets will not guarantee hummingbirds or angels.
What does this tell us about humans?
Whippoorwill. She stood in the wind at the edge of the lot, pigweed blooming and rattling cups. She angled her arms in semaphore, to spell out hello or love or cannot see. He let the afternoon open his face, red breath, wet tongue.
No, no, I may not be a bird, but I know where I’ll roost tonight, and I know over which trees the sun rises and beyond which highway the sun sets.
And that’s that.
This was a ‘blind’ collaboration between Linda Franklin and Joseph Young. We settled on two thematic words—birds, maps—and we wrote our pieces, understanding that Linda would read her title and first paragraph [roman typeface], be interrupted by Joe [italic] from the back of the room, then alternate between them until Joe was standing next to Linda at the podium. It was read at the 8/16/08 fiction 510readings at Minas Gallery, Baltimore, and worked better than either of us could have imagined. For more by Joseph Young, go to www.verysmalldogs.blogspot.com
For more on Minas and the 5ive Ten readings click on links in "site seeing" to the right of the page.