Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The only songbird dark enough to bear the word,
though most are deep chestnut, we remember them
lonely, their jackets radiant as tar, wet with a black
conjured as many when there is one. There will be
only many named as one, our loneliness a plural.
And namelessness no more or less. If a blackbird
enters a song and kills the light, it is only the mind
in search of company, when there is none, solitude
when voiceless, a blacker black inside the darkness.

Flower, flower. Bee, bee. I was talking to a three-year-old
about the world around us, and I pointed, named.
He echoed. He agreed. We were making progress.
Then we came to bird in the gutter, black with tiny
pincers that slowly took it back to earth. I never know
how to name the unspeakable, when, at last, it’s time.
He was a Jew. The small black tears of ants would, I
knew, invade his sheets one day. But there we were,
in paradise, the kingdom of death before the world began.

Where there is one, there are three. Always and already.
The figure, the field, the point of view. I had a buddy
who, when we were kids, was high and said, It’s all one.
He seemed happy enough, although the silence that followed
turned breakable. What do you say to fill a glass like that.
We were walking down Linda Vista, and our voices cast
a clear net over this fence, that mailbox, that parked car.
Where there was one, there was a sense of everything recalled.
Come back, it said. It’s beautiful here. We miss you.

The sound of a blackbird turns to music the moment
we hear in it the sound before, not over there and yet
not here, like the younger body in the one we carry.
The dust of homes is mostly skin. Face falls from face,
apple from the apple tree. The past never dies. It is
too busy dying, too busy being born, close as pulses are
in funeral promenades. Music is material. No more,
a little less. Which is why we hear there an inexorable
sadness and relief, so like ours who can tell the difference.

So tell me about your mother, the blackbird said,
and I was just about to mention her, which is odd,
because I have not thought of her in years, which is
odder still, and no sooner she appeared as a blackbird.
That is what happens in therapy. We see one bird
in another, and sometimes it helps us talk to those
long gone, it helps to console the black gowns of some
garden that has closed now, and we say, I am sorry,
as birds do, when we hear them speaking through us.

If your eye could turn around in its head, it would see
the black the artists used in drawings of the Neolithic age.
From the proto-Germanic blakkaz, meaning burned,
as were the bones ground up to make visible the bulls
of the Lascaux caves. Thus to return the femur to its
likeness. I want to say desire fashioned from the hunted
a portrait of the hungry in the hunt. By the crackle of torches
dipped in fat, they made peace with their gods, the ones
they ate, the way a cave eats an echo, longing to survive.

To blackbird, I have learned, is a verb, to make a slave
also known as a blackbird in the South Pacific, a word
cruel in spite and light of the music whose many silences
haunt the question. Who there does the naming.
To blackbird thus is to darken or erase, to load
the hold deep with suffering that just might sing or not.
That part is obsidian. Stone. Who are you, it asks.
Who enters still the ship in chains, as blood enters
blood, beneath the skin, where none alive can find them.

Today the world is made of glass, and what a glass bird
needs is an unbroken song, and sing he did, my friend
they found with a note of explanation. He played bass violin,
chest against the chamber, the church door of the strings.
I say he sang, because the voice is our first instrument
and last, what every other follows. Phrase by phrase.
Each melody will tell you. Music comes in waves. It whitens
the air and waits to let it clear. Everything is breathing.

I will not tell you how they found him. Not that part.
You will find no tree, no rope, no burden bending low
the branch. No child sees the thing from their back yard
and runs indoors. There is no indoors now. No child.
No bird flickers high above the limbs below. I know.
Most days the consolations of the garden make no pretense
of an understanding. I do see that. But I will not say it.
I cannot bear the song that breaks the voice who carries it,
or tries, who lifts the weight if only, then, to cut it down.

I have not read the letter left behind. I cannot.
I do not know what the man in the language needs
a friend to understand. But he is writing. I do see that.
He must have felt the desire to speak, to connect one
portion of his aloneness to another. A page lays to rest
a heavy window on a desk. A desk against the earth.
Even at night, the window could say, Go ahead, look.
Maybe we do and see nothing. Maybe we say nothing
to mean the room around us, the embers of a face.

When Wallace Stevens says, he is of three minds
like three trees, inside each a blackbird, I see the writer
pause, look up, let the letters scatter from his yard.
I see a friend. In every tree, a breeze unravels, shreds,
and somewhere on the far side mends. But it is this
breakage we hear. The voice of a writer who sees in
each act of seeing affinity and evasion, arousal, song,
a room in the private portion of an unhappy home.
Dear reader, the living say, and the paper flutters.

I dreamt to blackbird was to pare away the admissions
of our fictions. To say I am the bird, when what we mean
feathers what we say. Who does not long to be some part
of the story and yet survive it. To voice it where we are.
Somewhere on the path, I felt obliged to say the other as
other. Remember, language says, and then it wanders off
into the silence indistinguishable from words. Sometimes
death visits a friend. They talk. And I want to be involved,
included. To say, I am death, and leave my friend alone.

Long ago the bird we call The One Who Remembers
met another named The One Who Forgets, and together
they sang hello, and none could know one from the other,
although what followed a give and take, the rip and surge
of one ocean that opens and closes its curtain on the shore.
Doubtless each saw in the other the suffering of losing too
little or too much, and bird of oblivion paused, as music
must, with a cinder in its throat, and the bird of devotion
plucked it out and ate it and gave it back as a clear gold flame.

Pioneers of the talking cure believe the messages of sleep
elude us, so that we might encounter them safely at a distance.
We can walk into the burning house unscathed, a childhood
address where our mothers glisten with firelight and tears.
We can enter the open field on the other side of a speechless
friend and take comfort in the patter of slippers moving on.
For every dream is a love song now. It has something to lose.
In the higher registers of flame, a little laughter. In memory
of an evening too light to bear, the wings of ash, crossing over.

What we need is a greater sense of the flock, what a flock
needs, where it lives in the black space inside one, and one,
though we may throw our arms around the loose gathering
that includes, or rather permits, a lot of emptiness, enough
to make a flock the summons of each, as I felt summoned
once to join my family at the bedside of a father in a coma,
and we shared meals on the floor, we played him music, not
knowing if he heard, though when he woke at last he told us
he remembered nothing, no one, the song was ours alone.

Or not. Just might be my father heard us in his sleep
and then forgot. Not every freedom is chosen, loved.
One day a blackbird visits our window, just like that,
and we are elsewhere, in another house. We are placing
another washcloth on the forehead of a man in a fever.
Then we think of a day we put out the fire with the last
of our canteen, and we swore we heard a bird overhead.
The never chosen, always free. Then we lift the cloth.
We dry the skin, whisper something not even we can hear.

And so the birds arrived in numbers, and as they rose and fell,
they became a sea of inuendoes, inflections of the whole. If
they flew into a broken pattern, none can say who broke it.
I cannot count the times my mom broke down and then regathered.
She cleared her throat, tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear.
I can’t explain the meaning of a choice, let alone the citizen
who chooses. Is the soul the chirping lantern in the harbor
or the night that turns it to a star. Is that you inside the laughter
of the gulls who search, at dawn, what the moon dragged in.

At the end of the world, or rather just before, a blackbird
goes to work. She will take her place on a wire that carries
a final message through the last land line in Prescott, Arizona,
famous for its wind that breathes above the chat and weeping
of the phones. Then a silence. Its burden laid in the meadow
of the other side. And all things, being last, will feel the pressure
of a reader. A bird will hear you listening, and is this not what
you wanted, what you imagined all along. To don your black
jacket with the others and make listening a voice, to hear it sing.

The most consoling number is the most regretful, fatal.
A blackbird taught me. It led me into the woods at night.
It whispered, a man and a woman and a blackbird are one.
And not, of course, or one could never say so. It sounded
like scripture. The promise of marriage beyond experience.
A blackbird taught me to write my horrors down, to look
at them, out there in the land of other people’s suffering.
Do not hate yourself, it said. It helps no one. Then, for all
I know, it left. It turned the shade of the night between us.

To hear a blackbird is to see it, the thread that binds,
the visible share that needles the eye of each. Its singing
engenders a more specific language that never arrives,
not as our first breath does. Or last. The value of color
tells you how much black is in it, how much song haunts
the things we try to say. Say blackbird, and the natural
world might startle off. But losses return me to the value
of our dialogue. Our distance. A father could be the bird
between us, unsponsored, free, so long as we both see it.

Take heart, says the blackbird. The good news is a dream,
however frightened, never quite begins or ends, like a string
quartet prefaced in the calm that turns, beyond the lifting
of the bows, into a gate. A latch relinquishes, at last, its claim.
In the higher register of fire, heaven throws down a rope
of smoke to pull what burns away. I know a person of faith
who tells me I am fine. I will be fine. He is certain, he says.
Otherwise, he could not bear it. Take heart, he says. I love that.
I love much of what I half-believe, the good news, the friend.  

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