The chickens came home to roost. I’m only surprised the goddam
featherheads never saw it coming.
It ain’t magic; it’s language, the words on this very page.
Every time you hear a bell ring an angel gets its wings; homicidal people-
turned-birds are ringing the death knell of people on the streets in blood, spittle and
cracked bone. Meanwhile they’re looking at it like a freak occurrence. Man Blake in
the bottom of the building is reading it like a mythological text or a tarot card.
The transformation was inevitable. The bloodthirsty were war hawks; the
pacifists, doves. In the Scottish patois, and particularly when drunk, a “burd” or
“baird” refers to a woman, usually eyed like a plump steak in a window, whom the
beholden eye assumes can be taken home and consumed in a single, sloppy sitting
(see: Bea, Ashand, Don). The fellow out on the street, lounging in the corner with the
dirty smile and worn coat was “an odd bird,” the friend who never showed up to
parties “flighty,” the particularly doting matriarch a hen (her children, her flock), the
idiot was a “dodo,” the decoy a “stool pigeon,” the distended nose a “beak” (such a
face is also called aquiline), and the flamboyant female (or fellow)—she’s a peacock.
Squeezing a thigh is giving it a goose; work a phallus is sucking a cock. It’s like they
wanted it happen.
But only the saintliest get their wings. And they were all being knocked down
from their Icarian perch.
They shot the goddam albatross.
It’s like the never read Coleridge, watched The Birds, checked the history of
our planet’s food chain upon which dinosaurs (which are actually a distinctly avian
ancestor, as opposed to a reptilian one) once resided as top dog. We dreamed from
Da Vinci to the Wright brothers of imitating that privilege of freedom constantly
denied to terrestrial life: Flying, the ability not to just jump but to soar, to freely
reach the mountaintop.
Lucifer was denied his wings and condemned to live beneath the ground. We
invented Christ to usurp Ra and used the same method (albeit later) on
Huitzilopochtli, swan maidens, Valkyries, anything not depicted or described as a
hominid god. Icarus was us; we were Icarus; spurned onward by jealousy, eyeing
the soaring creatures from our terrestrial cell. And now that jealousy, in its
inevitable failure, became hate. We hate what we can never reach but only aspire to,
and that active hate, buried in jealous language, named something terrible into
We erected buildings that disrupted flight patterns like mountains,
alchemized sand into glass ceilings hung at impossible heights, built emulations of
the moon and the sun—interrupting the guiding lights of natural existence—and
stirred the pot of extinction with pollution and overexploitation. We were loons.
Birds predated the human narrative. There are things out there so much
larger than us. Ebell can believe it or not.
The brain is wired to form lives into stories with a distinct beginning and
end. It cleaves human existence into a neatly defined arc. By some miracle we hew
to similar paths, converge together in cities and careers and interests and ideas—
expressly or unconsciously—that parallel one another, across the globe, whether
we’ve interacted or not.
This isn’t some miracle of our own, emerging from a vacuum.
Denied our wings, we live a frustrated existence. Close to a dozen people in
an apartment building all wander their small spheres of the Earth aimlessly on an
individualistic quest to nothingness until something happens that breaks that
monotony. The frustration is in the news if you look for it: Our world is without
mobility; we’re being stultified, petrified within hierarchies and classes with no
motion down or up.
Magnify that into a million and you have a city: Beautiful in its variegated
textures, but frayed like a poorly woven cloth. Beatrice didn’t smash the lock by
accident. Those who found shaky comfort in malaise didn’t find adventure by
coincidence—Janice or Don or Ashland (though somehow the latter managed to
cook the impossible [more on that in a moment]). They wanted to find it; they
needed it. There’s a trope to describe the feeling. Tired of being rat in a cage? You
smash the fucking lock, you fly the fucking coop. Like Mr. Mayland, you build a bomb
and blow the whole damn thing up.
An angry army of bloodthirsty birds attacking the capital of the Midwest,
yolks turning to blood, truffle poached eggs (who the fuck would ever boil a
truffle?), even when you can picture them happening, when you can actually taste
the grime of feathers mingled with pennies in your mouth, when you can sadly
tongue what would inevitably be the soggy mess of such a dish (if truffle poached
eggs existed, which they wouldn’t, because truffle oil is a farce), they all still seem
just as unlikely and impossible as twenty separate individuals picturing and telling
the exact same story at the exact same time without having ever met or spoken to
each other—people who didn’t even share the same apartment building, maybe not
even the same sprawling city.
In some way, and as much as we never see it and try to deny it, we’re all one
collective unconscious, all of us are birds of a flock.
Amid all this chaos, real and imagined, playing out on the streets of Chicago, a
pair of birds are watching from the roof of the Public Library, waiting in the wings
above. I toss some crumbs in the street, spreading them among the viscous coating
of the silent asphalt. Even if I didn’t have a home in the narrative, I could play host to
the fellows who existed at a peaceful view removed from all the blood and chaos of
our still-forming universe, soaring freely in a place high above us all.
By Bo McMillan