Between the whispered motion of a starling’s flank, and a haunted twist of cloud, there moves a quick thought, or half thought, leading further in and away, or towards, all the reasons we rise in the morning, despite how, in Haiti, an orphaned toddler waits, in a muddy field, without water, for a slightly better life, that may or may not come to pass, and may lead instead to further injustices: the unwanted touch of a priest’s hand; guns too early, or at all; a needle the easiest and most reliable ally.
But lightning tells us anyway, if we listen, injustice is just another point on an infinite map, where there be dragons, or not dragons, or not not. Lay your finger down anywhere. Pick it up again. It won’t matter. Time marches on, or saunters, or does a pirouette, and we can’t catch the beat quite, except for fleeting moments, which are beautiful, so excruciatingly so that we look away, and only hear the rise of an entire murmurration of starlings, lift from elegant branches in the dead of winter, breaking the brittle air, and even then, though we don’t think it will be, it’s enough.
Storms are coming in. Storms skipping ahead of El Nino, the little bastard, doing his periodic dance over the equatorial ocean. The jet stream giveth, and the jet stream taketh away. There’s no rhyme or reason. Just the Southern Oscillation, and it’s consequences. Once again, we’re Mother Nature’s personal nag. She rides us like a steed until we’re broken and spent. The least she could do is throw a blanket over our withers as we shiver and groan inside our fragile stable walls.
Storms of the heart are washing in as well. I try to stay ahead of them in my little skiff, but the best I will likely do is ride them up one peak and down the other, praying I don’t capsize.
Up in the air, much higher than flocks of starlings rook and rise and land again, I ride inside my ex husband’s private jet, traveling each weekend to family sessions in our teenage daughter’s rehab program. He spends long hours chattering up the still air between us with versions of reality that bend light into a spectrum of his own victim-hood. Accusations and blame are tossed around like confetti, falling on everyone else but himself. I brush it off my sweater and try to remember to breathe. He sucks down another Guinness and makes sure to swallow three Oxycotin before dinner with me and his new wife, who is quiet and sincere, but suffers from delusions and aggresive paranoia in the wake of her frequent petit mal seizures. The food is excellent, the atmosphere exquisite. I stare out the porthole at my seat and try not to think too much about plummeting down through the clouds, the icy wind shredding my dermis as I fall. That kind of pain seems like a welcome relief from this one at the moment.
I’ve worked hard in my own recovery. Fourteen years this week, and still chugging along. The little addict who could. It’s hard to keep my thoughts from augering into that place where all they do is harp on the unfairness of this all. I paid my dues already. I bribed the gatekeeper. I thought we had a pact, gods. Do what you want to me, but leave my daughter alone. Clearly there was some misunderstanding. Looks like it was mine.
I have a friend with whom I argue about climate change. He’s a jar head, I’m a tree hugger. He likes to insist that the climate does what it wants, and we, as puny humans have little or no influence or effect on the swell and ebb of temperatures and their constellations. Ice Ages come and go, and we are but specks of dust. I like to remind him that specks of dust don’t build textile factories and metallurgical plants that spew toxins into their own nests. He and I have a wager. In twenty years, I bet him, we’re going to see ever more catastrophic effects from our impact on global climate. If I’m wrong, I owe him a blow job. If I’m right, he has give me one. Right now, though, I see his point. I’m feeling extra puny and the winds are blowing pretty hard. Hard to keep track of who exactly is getting blown.
It would be easy to be disheartened, given it all. But above all, I’m stubborn. Like Dylan Thomas, I refuse to go gently into that good night. It may be the one time when being a cantankerous middle aged coot has it’s advantages. I’m like Sergeant Dan, legless and strapped to the crows nest in a hurricane, shaking his fist at the skies and daring the sea to swallow him at last. Fuck you, gods, I’m still here. Along with Port-au-Prince, Kabul, Brazzaville, Banda Ache and Darfur. And really, next to them, what the hell do I have to complain about?
Blackbirds rise in a blurry dissimulation from the vineyards of my home. Here the soil is fertile and the crops verdant, for now. The locals tip wine into their mouths and let fall treasures or poison, depending. Things are much the same as they’ve ever been. Some predicting catastrophe and apocalypse; others bounty and infinite wonder.
Starlings push Bluebirds from their nests to make a home. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem to matter much. Plenty of fat Bluebirds still populate my neighborhood, tearing worms from the soil and plucking pomegranate seeds from drying fruit on bare branched trees. Each bring me the same amount of joy when sighted, or not, depending on my mood. Don’t hate the Starling. It’s cold out there as the storms are whipping in off the indifferent jet stream. They have but a dozen years to settle and brood, learning the sound of twenty different calls, sometimes sixty whole songs, including the sound of your car alarm. Not bad for a brain the size of a pellet.
My roommate’s daughter Sophia is five, and blonde, and wide eyed, and impish. We draw birds together and she worries that hers won’t look right, but tries anyway, and is delighted with the bird on one side of her paper, disappointed with the bird on the other. So it goes. I like them both, and tell her so. Sophia decides that one of the birds is a bluejay, the other a chickadee. Gods of our paper universes, we give them nests, and sky, and eggs. The rest they will have to scratch together for themselves.