Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Early Warning Systems

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Early Warning Systems

Article excerpt

Early Warning Systems

I fell in with the snakes and the poison ranks of strangers. Please send me more yellow birds for the dim interior.

- Mark Linkous

Eight years ago ...

I remember reading a poem in which the character of Death, after a hiatus, returned, at their request, to his people. Without him (I seem to recall Death as a blond-haired boy), their lives lacked momentum, and the People had nothing to do but follow stray dogs and stare at grass. When he came back to work, the happiness of the People rose up "like a net to catch the delicate and plummeting bodies" of birds, which were the first visible creatures to go. (Microscopic things and bugs, and maybe even frogs had already started dying again, but nobody noticed.) It is a vivid and wonderful poem, and I apologize to you and to Stephen Dobyns for lancing it with plot summary, always the unwieldy weapon.

Two notions of this poem have lingered with me for almost a decade - that a bird might die in midflight, like we might in midstride, or midsummer or midsandwich. (I suppose, if I had ever given thought to it, I might have imagined the birds feeling ill and landing like retired golfers near a soft patch of moss. Or perhaps toppling gingerly out of a dogwood tree. Once, on a Florida sidewalk, I found a dead bird so brilliant in its chartreuse, it seemed unthinkable and maybe even unjust that its vitality had flown off without it.) And secondly, that birds are indicators of fragility not of their own, of course; if you have ever seen a rush of chimney swifts storm their dwelling at dusk like so much smoke in reverse, you will know that they are not fainthearted creatures - not indicators o their own fragility, but of ours.

Eight months ago. . .

Although I wasn't thinking about this then, after the Eleventh (remember when eleven felt like one of the lucky numbers?) I drew birds - pastel colored, cartoon birds, but delicate and lifeless. Superheroes in full uniform would be carefully lifting little yellow wings to look for lesions. I have no particular interest in morbidity; I just knew that if I could draw what I was afraid of seeing, I could give it some manageable size and shape, and then I could name it and hold it and put it to the side of my desk in order to move on to other things. Without this activity, there was only an enormous Unnamed Sinking Feeling and an edgy pit of sleeplessness. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.