This is a field guide to birdsongs east of the Rockies. It is a guide to the sounds of human beings on the Eastern Seaboard and inland to the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. It is a guide to the great sonic movement of human existence, the hey you on the street and the get outta my face on the subway; the give me a pack of Marlboro’s at the mini-mart, and the excuse me is this seat taken? on the train. It is a guide to the vocalizations that float around you regardless of whether you are participating, or simply eavesdropping, and it can provide you with a means to understanding sound, which is something as enormous, beautiful and permanent as the sky.
But before we go any further it is important to spend a moment on terminology. You may ask why a birdsong and not a humansong or personsong? We’re talking about the sounds of people after all. And while this is true and we are in fact talking about human vocalization, I would like to assert that humansong and personsong aren’t buoyant enough, or feathery enough, if you will, to represent the music that we’re about to examine. Moreover, those terms by virtue of their human reference bear downward toward the earth, and we’re talking about something that rises upward, toward the heavens, like a bird. There’s an enormous range to human speech after all. There’s the epithet and the command, the observation and the response, the whisper and the chide. These sounds occupy many spaces, much like birds; there are the ones that rise upward and paint glorious arcs in the sky, and there are others that scale close to the ground or simply molt. Some may inspire you and others may drive you to states of incalculable boredom and tears. For this reason it is important to understand the types and varieties of songs that exist and this is where this field guide comes in. It will not only identify the types of songs in your midst, but it will help to point out the varieties of those making the songs. And in keeping with my own ornithological sentiments-and to uphold the greater scientific quality of this study-the guide will refer to those being examined as birds. This is intended to better illustrate the types of singers that exist and their assorted qualities. For example, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler is going to sing a distinctly different song than a Belted Kingfisher or an American Woodcock even though the three may work in the same office and drive similar minivans. If this is not clear now, it will be as you read on. The study of birdsongs, as you will find, is classification and observation at its finest and it is my hope that through better identification and documentation we can become better listeners and possibly even a better species.
So without further ado, here’s a sampling of the birdsongs that I’ve managed to hear in my thirty-nine years of travels, which have extended as means and nerve have allowed, as far as the Rockies.
THE FIELD GUIDE
Blue-Winged Teal. Anas discors. 6′ 2″ Male. Found in the subway.
Two hundred pounds. Wool cap, blue subway uniform. He holds the door open for me – and I’ll note right here that this is the way many birds approach: they’ll open a door or make you a lasagna or call themselves “mother” or “father” or “uncle” and then move in for what they want-your ear. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, and if you’re in the proper frame of mind and use the appropriate verbal cues, you’ll find that you can elicit a surprisingly good melody.
I’ve known Anas discors for years, so I give him a warm hello and he gives me a how ya doing big guy and soon we’re down the escalator and sitting on a bench where he’s singing about the 1,560 train cars working the tunnels and the construction at Savin Hill, Fields Corner, and Shawmut stations.
Oh, I say. But it’s just a sound. It could easily be the fee or weep made by a bird. A sound, in other words, to keep him going.
Shawmut is all ripped up, he says. It looks like the goddamn Parthenon and people are walking around in circles, going, ‘where the hell is my train?’ ‘what happened to the entrance?’ ‘how am I supposed to get to work?’ And by the time they find the poor guy in the booth-who thank God isn’t me-they’ve got all sorts of issues.
His song is particularly clear this morning, so I push up my glasses and lean in for a better look at his face. He has large eyes, like brown marbles, I can see that much, and he has a small mouth and long chin. I’d like to get a closer look, maybe discern the lines on his forehead and what I suspect is a mole on his upper right cheek, but I don’t get the chance because he’s now tipping his head toward a woman who just stepped onto the platform. She’s tall and wears thick glasses and he’s saying, She looks nice, Edwin. Go over and say hello. You puss. He’s even jabbing me with his elbow, which is really unnecessary. Then when he sees that I’m not going anywhere he starts to lecture me about how a person can’t live alone for the rest of their lives, how a person needs companionship, and the importance of building a solid marriage, or at least a passable marriage, like the one he’s had for thirty years. I know this lecture well, but thankfully the train arrives and pulls him into the darkness.
Marsh Wren. Arandus northapalus. 5′ 8″ Male. Found at 157 Rotterdam Lane.
One hundred ninety-seven pounds. Swim trunks. Flip flops. This bird is known as “father” and his song is usually heard in the vicinity of a television. It goes like this: Oh, man are you kidding me? Are you? Let me tell you something that Joey Ritigliano son-of-a-bitch said to me. Bust my chops? I’ll bust his chops! And so on. He has a lot of stories too. Stories to fill the silence and to clutch the silence and to kick the silence in its can and then throttle it until it pleads for mercy. In other words, silence is deadly to Arandus northapalus. He’ll tell you about buying the deer antler chandelier and waiting for the son-of-a-bitch antler guy at the state line. Or he’ll tell you about going to the doctor for the lump in his shoulder, or taking the cruise and the size of the goddamn red snapper they put on this plate. And if his wife, Arandus macadamius, “mother” by marriage only, is in the vicinity she will sing in concert with Arandus Northapalus, thereby creating a sonic volley.
Look at him, with the stains on his pants.
Let me tell you something. You’ve never had snapper like that in your life.
You go to work like that?
It was tender and flaky, like butter.
I wouldn’t go to work like that.
And the olive spread, what was that?
Tapenade. To die for.
He looks like a bum.
Lay off. You’re giving me a headache.
Oh, excuse me.
Don’t you think he has enough problems?
And I don’t?! I could have cancer for all you know!
And this marks a break in their song, at least the harmonic aspect, which is really its best quality.
Fox Sparrow. Cupitous bulwarkius. 5′ 9″ Female. Goddess. Found on Revere Beach.
One hundred twenty-seven pounds. Rumpled clothing. Hair a mess. The most beautiful and sublime singer east of the Rockies. She was found dancing against an orange sunset, her body moving with the fluidity of a ribbon. I would later discover that she was a dancer and that these expressions-the easy bend of the hips, the drop to the knees, the kick to the sky-were part of an interpretive dance style that she called Manifestations. She was an artist, you see, a redeemer of humanity, as she would later tell me; and it was through this technique that she delivered her interpretation of the world. When I saw her in the sunset she was practicing a number called Gulls on the Frigate in which she swayed in a manner that had been inspired by a group of senior citizens on an AARP boat trip. Of course, I couldn’t have discerned this at the time, nor could I have related it to her affinity for the elderly and the odd.
Hello, she said.
That was beautiful, I said.
Thank you, she said. Perhaps she sensed my rapture, perhaps it was written in the lines of pain on my face, I’m not sure, but she took my hands with unusual ease and encouraged me to kick, twirl, and gyrate. You should know that it has been my blight and indeed the blight of all over-sized individuals to be seldom touched, so this was something new to me. It brought life to my extremities and air to my lungs, and though I knew nothing about my partner beyond what I could see of her oval face and the coils of hair that sometimes interrupted it, I felt as if I had known her forever. We twirled for hours, her slender hands in mine, until the ground turned dark and the sky filled with stars.
We agreed to meet the following morning, but the intervening hours moved slowly, like an indignant sow. I endured, however, and made it back to the beach to meet my beloved Cupitous bulwarkius in the same place on the sand. She arrived several hours later than promised, but gave me her story in the form of a birdsong that was well worth the wait. She told me about her childhood in Tallahassee, her father’s arthritis, and her grandmother’s borsht. She also spoke of the tree branches scratching the sides of her father’s ’76 Bronco, and the nuns playing piano at school recitals. There was a lot to absorb, so I listened as broadly and openly as I could, following the path of her intermittent ahhhs and you know what I means and not reallys, as well as her frequent aspirations, which emerged like tiny blossoms on her exhales. So much sonic beauty, I thought, and through such red lips the pout of which appeared to my compromised eye like the knotted end of a red balloon.
She must have been studying me as well because she likened the lenses of my glasses to wading pools, and observed that my body, even when seated, had the likeness of a tower. Not quite Pisa, she said, but close and then to illustrate pitched her body and rounded her shoulders. It was remarkably accurate and just the sort of product you would expect from a professional dancer. She seemed to enjoy it as well, so I gamely suggested that she could perfect it in subsequent meetings. That’s when she told me that she was going to be on the road for a year. I’ll write you, she promised.
Gray Teal. Inflatious bullesentus. 5′ 7″ Male. Found at the law offices of Patton, Lewis and Blow.
One hundred sixty pounds. Mustache. Slightly balding. He marches down the hallway and directs me into his office where I sit in a guest chair that’s intentionally lower than his. Goddamn idiots! he cries, and I’ll note that an emotional opener, like this, is a perfect signal that a birdsong is about to ensue. First, they wanted advice. Then they wanted a summary, but now they want a complete assessment, and at no fee. It’s bullshit!
Bullshit! I say, to press him onward.
They have us over a barrel, Edwin. We have to think for them and decide for them. Should we do their jobs as well? Should we wipe their asses while we’re at it?
This is, of course, a rhetorical question and Inflatious bullesentus uses the moment in which I do not answer to stroke his mustache and then tell me that he needs a hundred pages proofed and on his desk by five o’clock, no mistakes. I remind him that this is technically my day-off and that I only came in to pick up my check. Edwin, please don’t ruin my life. An extra day, huh? What are you, a Rockefeller? It’s true, I need the money, so I take a moment to make it look like I’m weighing my options and then I agree. No problem, I say, which undoubtedly satisfies Inflatious bullesentus because he waves me off.
Boreael Owl. Athene cunicularia. 6’0″ Found on my front stoop.
One hundred fifty-three pounds. Wool sports jacket. A bird of the septuagenarian variety, commonly known as “Len.” He sits in his garden chair and extends his hand as I exit. This is an important factor. A bird who sings to you from the comfort of his own front stoop is doing something quite different from one who sings to you from, say, the Department of Motor Vehicles where you are routinely denied a driver’s license. Never mind that you can catch typos the size of paramecium, it’s your height plus your need to bring the application to within a few inches of your face that puts them on edge. This is all to say that the context and circumstances of your encounter will often determine the content, duration and intensity of the song being sung. In this case, Athene cunicularia sings freely, this being his stoop and his period of retirement from the field of electron microscopy. Don’t ask what this means, it could take hours to describe; in fact, Athene cunicularia can spend the better part of a perfectly good Saturday loading you with details. Nevertheless, the short answer is that electron microscopy has something to do with atoms. Field Emission Electron Miroscopists are Brighter 1,000 Times! my neighbor has quipped before breaking into a fit of snorts and laughter. As you might imagine, Athene cunicularia knows quite a lot about microscopic particles, but what you might not expect is that his vision, even without a microscope, is extraordinarily sharp. For example, he recently saw my beloved Cupitous bulwarkius running through South Station to catch what he believed was the 4:20 p.m. to Needham. When I challenged him on this he said: tall girl, black hair, moves like an angel. I had given him this description many times before and had shown him the publicity photo that I keep pinned to my bedroom wall. Swear to it, Edwin. As clear as I see these five fingers in front of my face, he said, wiggling his fingers. That was your girl walking into South Station.
Northern Raven. Drabalus nix. 5’1″ Female. Found behind the front desk at the publishing house of Purslane & Roberts where I bring my manuscript (an earlier version of the one you are reading) and wait for a meeting with Mr. D. Sommers of the Wildlife Books division.
One hundred fifty-two pounds. Plump. Looks at me over the top of her enormous pink-rimmed glasses, which have slid most of the way down her nose. Oy vey, Edwin. you’ve got a meshugine kup, you know that? I don’t answer, but take a seat at the far end of the waiting room. Fine, go ahead. Sit. See what I care, she says. I just have to look at your farkatke ponim all day! I should note right here that her Yiddish is impeccable and during the few weeks that I’ve spent camped in the waiting room I’ve picked up a distinctive bouquet of terms. I now know that I futz and gey shlofn, and for all of her kvetshing I can tell that she likes having someone to talk to. She tells me about the criminals in Washington and the criminals in city hall and then she waddles over to me, pinches me on the cheek and says, we’d be better off with you running the city. I smile out of courtesy only. I don’t want to run the city, although one time I tried to run past Drabalus nix. I made it halfway to the wildlife books division when she caught me by the leg and dragged me back to the waiting room with her meaty hands. Another time, after being ignored for several days, I declared a hunger strike and gained an audience with Mr. D. Sommers of the wildlife books division. He listened to my pitch, flipped through my manuscript, and then told me that he would never publish my book. This is, of course, a decision that I am endeavoring to reverse.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Archilochus colubris. 4’2″ Found on my block as I walk toward the Quality Convenience.
Eighty-seven pounds. Hooded sweatshirt. Cargo shorts. He pursues me on his skateboard and cries, Hey, Birdman! Birdman, wait up! He’s a brilliant singer who is routinely brimming with songs of skateboard conquest, and this time is no exception. He tells me with his gracious and vowel-loving Boston accent-and really there are no other accents east of the Rockies that desire the vowel quite as much-that he just got monsta aya from a sick-assed jump over the four freakin granite-assed stayas that lead to the bank. He is admittedly one of my favorites, but today I’m occupied with other concerns. Athene cunicularia, commonly known as “Len,” has just told me that he saw my precious bird, Cupitous bulwarkius, walking through South Station and that she wasn’t alone, but with a rotund man whom she stopped to hug.
What kind of hug? I ask.
An unmistakable hug, he says flatly. I realize how much I’ve benefited from his visual gifts over the years; but, this particular sighting is a little too much. Rotund can be attractive, I know that much, so I go to the Quality Convenience to buy toothpaste and razors and reconsider my situation.
Manx Shearwater. Puffinus puffinus. 5’11″ Male. Found at the coffee shop at South Station where I’ve temporarily relocated my base of operations.
Two hundred pounds. Gray suit. Burgundy briefcase. As your lawyer, he says, which I allow him even though he is a paralegal and will always be a paralegal. I have to advise you once again of the risks inherent in your research. He takes his time with the last word, distancing its two syllables, as he gives my notebook and tape recorder a clinical once-over. I’ve done some more reading, he says. And it turns out that there was a guy in Sarsaparilla, Kansas-Edwin, are you listening? Hey, look at me when I’m talking-and this guy decides to record the sound of cows chewing grass. He’s a nut, but he’s no dummy, so he mixes this thud-thud-thud chewing sound to a dance beat. Who knows why, but the kids go nuts for it and soon the guy is swimming in money. That’s when people start asking questions and by people I mean lawyers. Edwin, he says, snapping his fingers, pay attention. So the lawyers want to know who supplied the cows for this thing and it soon turns out that the cows in question belong to the ADM Corporation. Are you listening, Edwin? ADM, as in SUPERMARKET TO THE WORLD. And their lawyers go after the guy because, get this, they own the rights to any sound produced on their property. Are you following me? They own every single sound-cows, turbines, mosquitoes, you name it. So ADM cleans this guy out. They take everything-his home, his recording equipment, his fancy outfits-everything. Puffinus puffinus stops at this point to wipe muffin crumbs from his chin. What I’m saying is that you can’t take anything in this world, not without written consent. So do yourself a favor and dump this bird thing right now. Dump it. Burn the paperwork. Do whatever it takes, but get out now, while you still can.
Hooded Merganser. Lophodytes cucullatus. 5’8″ Female. Found at the coffee shop at South Station where I am still working.
One hundred fifty-nine pounds. Wears a cape, with hood (purely coincidental). I’ve listened to her songs on several occasions, but today she’s singing about the bone spur in her left heel and the never ending you never felt anything like this, Edwin, not in your entire life pain. I’ve heard her sing like this before, so I don’t take notes and instead allow the words to flow over me as I observe the terminal. I must admit that quitting the firm has done wonders for my research. I’ve discovered that there was in fact no freedom in freelance, and without the burden I’ve been able to push my research to new heights. Yesterday, for example, I spent three hours with Athene cunicularia, commonly known as “Len,” listening to his detailed account of the molting process of the Siberian Ostrow. It was a tough listen, but it deepened my understanding of the sounds that pass through his windpipe. The aspirations alone are something to admire and I would share them with you, only Lophodytes cucullatus is now shaking me by the shoulders. Hello, Edwin! Where are you? But my vocal chords are limp because who do I see crossing the buffed granite of the central terminal, but Cupitous bulwarkius! I’m using the word “see” liberally here because I don’t actually see her as much as I see the blotch of her. I also smell the fragrance of lilac that coaxes my nerves to in her direction. I don’t mean to be rude to Lophodytes cucullatus, but I’ve been waiting a year for this moment, so I drop my pen and microphone and sprint across the concourse.
Hello! I say. I’ve grasped her by the shoulders, but due to my height and the size of my hands it looks like I’m about to push her down. Maybe she gets this impression as well because she jabs me in the gut.
Nevertheless, I hold on until she finally looks up and says, Oh, you. This isn’t an ideal reaction, but it’s something and I take it as good. As she looks at me I can tell that she is a mixture of excited and shocked, excited being the bigger emotion. Edwin? she says. Edwin Peterson? The memories are no doubt flooding her mind as she takes me in. First she examines my Wood Stork t-shirt-Mycteria americana, by the way, the lofty and dolesome bird of the southeastern coastal swamps-and then she slowly considers the lenses of my glasses. Maybe she’s recalling her wading pools comment, which was really very witty. Regardless, the questions are now pouring out of my mouth and the answers, to my great relief, are all affirmative. Yes, she is back in town and yes she is back for good and yes she is working on a new production of Manifestations and yes it’s opening soon and yes she would like to have coffee soon and yes, yes, yes, YES!
Fox Sparrow. Cupitous bulwarkius. 5′ 9″ Female. Goddess. Found on the esplanade with yours truly exactly one week later.
One hundred twenty-seven pounds. Gorgeous crimson silk dress the fringe of which rises and falls at the curves of her calves. We’re linked at the elbows and I’m glad that I can’t see her calves, or for that matter any other exposed portion of her body. Not while touching. This would be too much, so I bring my gaze upward, toward the watery plane of passing sailboats. She tells me about 42nd Street in Phoenix, Cats in Duluth, and The Admiral of Canterbury at SUNY Purchase, the prestige of which she describes in painstaking detail. She also tells me about Calendar Time, a show in which she danced to-of all songs-Lullaby of Birdland and I’m thinking, that’s it! We’re fated. And I croon a few lines to seal the moment. Have you ever heard two turtledoves, pittle and coo when they love. Cupitous bulwarkius smiles in a stop-it-right-now kind of way, and even though her eyes are hidden by the black plates of her sunglasses, I can tell that she means business. I’m embarrassed, but she doesn’t seem to notice because she goes on about how she found a great apartment on Commonwealth Avenue. She doesn’t invite me over per se, but she walks me through it with her words, unfurling the floral curtains and exposing the balustrades and moldings with the typically effusive adjectives that one finds in most birdsongs. She says that she has been commuting from this apartment to the Needham Heights theater where she performs. This, I realize, explains her commute through South Station. She asks if I plan to see the show and I chuckle to myself because I’ve gone every night since it opened. I don’t tell her this, however, or describe how I take my seat just after the lights go down and leave just before they come up. I omit these things to spare her from my obsession, only, as she stands in the sunlight against the stark blue curtain of the river I’m tempted to tell her everything. I’m tempted to tell her that I’ve been hunched in seat Q7 biting my knuckles as she bends and rolls around the scuffed stage. Magnificent, I whisper upon this recollection, but she doesn’t notice because she’s too busy telling me that I must come to the show, but to make sure to tell her which night. Then, in parting, gives me a quick kiss that perforates my soul.
Fox Sparrow. Cupitous bulwarkius. 5′ 9″ Female. Goddess. Found at the coffee shop in South Station one week later.
One hundred twenty-seven pounds. Oh, mother of god, the world is so gloriously sonorous! I hear the trains disengage with oceanic moans and pigeons flapping in the dome. I hear heels smacking like raindrops onto the buffed marble and coffee producing a decidedly electric crackle as it fills the paper cups behind me. You must tell me when you’re coming to the show, she says. I tell her that my time is limited on account of work, but that I’ll get around to it soon. And though I don’t tell her this, I’ve noticed that in her second number called Sideways Synoptics she assumes a lumbering gait very similar to my own. It’s me for about five minutes, jutting my head forward, squinting, and moving with a stiffness that I now realize accommodates my height. It’s fascinating, actually. And though I was initially surprised to see myself Manifested on stage, I have grown increasingly comfortable with the representation.
Whimbrel. Numenius phaeopus. Male. 5’11″ Found at the coffee shop in South Station.
One hundred ninety-three pounds. Talks about something, but I don’t catch it because I haven’t seen, or at the very least, heard from Cupitous bulwarkius in over a week and this has dampened my hearing. Perhaps she’s upset because I didn’t officially show up until the closing night, when she deftly muted my body movements in Sideways Synoptics, though I could still see a bit of myself in her hyper-extended left leg. I had been deprived so many times of this final moment that I stood up at the curtain call and clapped wildly. She saw me doing this, as my hands were fluttering far above the others, and gave me a generous white-toothed smile. I’ve tried to preserve this in my mind, along with the flushed oval of her face and the grace of her bow, but the harder I try, the faster it disintegrates. This disintegration, no doubt wrought from my desire, has also claimed the details of our conversation after the show. She said something about her next Manifestation; it would concern children, I think, or simply the views from down low, as I remember her putting it.
Cupitous bulwarkius is still commuting, I know that much from Len, so I keep a lookout from the coffee shop and like the muscular God above me extending his finger in the firmament of the dome, or at least that’s how the artwork looks to me, I extend my senses to all corners of the terminal in anticipation of our contact. I do this, while at the same time listening to birdsongs about lost brothers, faulty hunches, swollen glands, and busted luggage. I hear about battles with spouses, the dangers of corn syrup, and the promise of Whisper Cars. And I have to say that despite my disappointment in not seeing Cupitous bulwarkius, I collect hundreds of new birdsongs.
Blue Winged Warblers (two). Perkious millicertuses. 5’3″ and 5’6″ respectively. Females. Found at a nearby table in South Station.
One hundred eighteen pounds and one hundred ten pounds respectively. I listen to their discussion, because eavesdropping, as I’m starting to discover, enables me to conserve energy. The first one starts: So he rings me up and he’s like ‘what are you doing?’ and I’m just standing there, right, so I’m like, ‘I’m just standing here.’ And he’s like, ‘I’ll be right over.’ And I swear in like ten minutes he’s at my front door being all like ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘you mean the world to me,’ and I’m about to slam the door on his sorry face, only I see that he’s holding a stuffed animal Schnauzer and he goes ‘He’s for you. His name is Lieutenant’ and I’m like, holy shit because that was his old dog’s name, you know, the one that got hit by the UPS truck.
I can’t see the girl’s face, but I assume she acknowledges this because the other one continues, It broke my Goddamn heart.
Black Winged Teal. Bostonius backbayious. 6’2″ Found strolling outside Cupitous Bulwarkius’s apartment on Commonwealth Avenue.
One hundred seventy pounds. Elderly. Gray overcoat. Brimmed hat. He whistles. Fee fee fee, fee. feefeefee. feefeefee. feefeefee. It’s the tune to London Bridge is Falling Down. I join in with a few bars, so he tips his hat and bids me a good evening and then eyes the purple and red stuffed stegosaurus that I have tucked under my arm. He’s one-foot long with a gaping red mouth and white felt ridges for teeth, this is the stegosaurus I’m talking about, with an upraised paw, which makes it look like he’s interrupting and about to make a point. He’s really quite adorable and I almost don’t want to give him away, only I’m already ringing the doorbell. When I’m done I take a few steps back and look up as the third floor window lights up to frame the silhouette of my goddess’ head. Hey, Margaret! I yell. Hey. Down here! It’s me, Edwin. She looks down at me, perplexed. She clearly wasn’t expecting me, but I wave the stegosaurus over my head, so she can see that it’s a social visit and that there are gifts involved. I thought this would do the trick, but it doesn’t; so I work the bell a few more times and pound on the door, but by now her silhouette is gone.
Northern Cardinal. Corporaleus brutaleous. 6’2′ Male. Found at the precinct where I am booked for harassment.
Two hundred sixty pounds. Blue uniform, triple-extra large. His stomach wobbles in front of him as he leads me along and sings, Shut up, Frankenstein. I don’t want to hear it. I had enough of youze guys. You think I’ve heard your crap before. I hear it all day. What is this crap? He says looking at a memo and then resuming his conversation with me. You think that’s nice, huh? Pounding on some poor woman’s door and then rifling through her trash? Just look at yuz. And I have to note right here that his use of the pronoun yuz bears a strong resemblance to my grammar school math teacher, Colabrius bigmonsterous, who, albeit a bit larger in the midsection, used to apply a similar intonation to this pronoun each year before handing back our report cards. He’d look around the classroom and sing: Some of yuz is doing good. And some of yuz is doing mediocre. And here he would take his flattened palm and wobble it so as to illustrate the unstable condition of mediocre. But some of yuz is doin nothing! Now get to work! And at this point he’d look at me and Donald West because Donald never did any work and I was always distracted. Let’s go, Frankenstein! Corporaleus Brutaleous shouts as he pushes me into a damp cell. That’s right. There you go, he says as he gives me a final push and then slams the cell door behind me.
Boreael Owl. Athene cunicularia. 6’0″ Found at the precinct posting my bail.
This is Len, of course, and he posts bail and rides the train with me back to the apartment. He doesn’t say anything. He’s a good friend.
Piping Plover. Charadrius melodus. 5’2″ Female. Found at the coffee shop in South Station where I am once again working.
I’m tiring of words. I’m tiring of opening my mouth and producing the tonal variations How are you today? and That’s a nice lamp you have on your lap, would you like to tell me about it? Simply put, I conserve energy and prompt my subjects with grunts, which work surprisingly well. The other day, in fact, I listened to Athene cuniculara, Lophodytes cucullatus and Perkious millicertus in one seven-hour binge. I suppose there were too many vocal patterns mixed into my head because when I fell asleep that night I dreamt that I was standing outside South Station watching people exit, only these people were not moving quietly forward in typical commuting fashion, but directly at me and singing at a volume of Mormon Tabernacle proportions. I cringed, cupping my ears to protect them from the noise, but then saw to my horror that the doors from which these people exited were no longer doors but open mouths, hollowed and dark. I ran as fast as I could, but the faster I ran the louder the songs grew until they became a unified and ear-splitting hhhaaaa.
Spotted Oriole. Selasphorus rufus. 6’1″ Male. Found at the checkout at the Quality Convenience.
One hundred ninety pounds. Neon orange vest. Oversized dungarees, although if it is not too much of a jump I’d just like to say that I saw Cupitous bulwarkius three hours earlier on Atlantic Avenue. She was holding the hand of a midget – excuse me, little person – who wobbled in the most fantastic way. If she had been alone, I probably would have been better able to control my impulses, but seeing her there with the midget made me crazy. I ran over, and before I could stop myself, told her that I missed her desperately and maybe we could have coffee sometime. She smiled politely, but the midget who was clearly covetous of her company thumbed me off.
Painted Bunting. Passerina Ciris. 5’7″ Male. Found at East Asia Take Out, where I wait for my dinner.
One hundred seventy-three pounds. White chef’s suit. He hands me a vegetarian delight, but lately I get more delight from my recollections of Cupitous bulwarkius on Revere Beach. This goes back a few years, but I’ve been replaying a certain memory lately. She’s fishing for her wallet in the worn leather bucket that serves as her purse and the coils of her black hair are dancing on the wind. She asks what I want from the snack bar and I say, I’d like a fudgie, please. She breaks down with laughter, even though fudgies are very much on the menu. This is a minor moment, but I play it repeatedly if for no other reason than her looking so beautiful.
Pine Grosbeak. Pinicola Enucelator. 5′ 6″ Male. Found on a bench at the esplanade.
One hundred forty pounds. Black hair. Knows a great deal about army uniforms and their bulk. The song merits interest, but I suddenly see Cupitous bulwarkius walking hand-in-hand with the midget who thumbed me off. I rub my eyes. I ask Pinicola enucelator to confirm what I see and he says, yes, there are two people walking hand-in-hand against the shafts of dying sunlight, and, yes, one is disturbingly shorter than the other. I’m at a loss for words when I see the two mismatched figures stop and my beloved Cupitous bulwarkius bend forward to kiss the inglorious midget on the cheek. My pencil drops. My notebook drops too. I want to stretch my arms across the esplanade and pry them apart, but even my arms at their imagined length are limp. This is when I notice that my companion on the bench, Pinicola enucelator, hasn’t stopped talking about his uniform and how horribly it itches, and this brings my attention back to his song and to the pages of my notebook, which are now flapping in the wind. He’s adamant about the coarseness of the fabric and he embroiders the air to demonstrate. Such a delicate gesture, I think, so fitting to his song, and I know then, as I’ve known thousands of times before, that I cannot let this or any other bird disappear unheard. He has too much to say, too much to explain, and above all he needs a physical record, no matter how modest, to prove that he actually exists.
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