As we’re leaving the King’s Arms Hotel after Sunday lunch, I watch a beautiful white dove walking down the wet road. A car approaches and the bird accidentally turns into the wheel rather than away from it. A gentle crunch. The car passes. A shape like a discarded napkin left in the road. Still perfectly white, no red stains, but bearing no relation anymore to the shape of a bird. A trail of white feathers flutter down the road after the car. The suddenness is very upsetting. That gentle crunch.
― Antony Sher, Year of the King: An Actor’s Diary and Sketchbook
There is nothing else in magic but the wild thought of the bird as it casts itself into the void. There is no creature upon the earth with such potential for magic. Even the least of them may fly straight out of this world and come by chance to the Other Lands. Where does the wind come from that blows upon your face, that fans the pages of your book?
Birds with Skymirrors is a provocative and beautiful dance work choreographed by Lemi Ponifasio, one of New Zealand’s most famous artists. It was inspired by a walk on the beach on the Pacific island of Tarawa, during which Ponifasio observed seabirds flying with pieces of plastic hanging from their beaks. The dancers embody the movements of birds, sometimes soaring and inspiring, sometimes tense and mechanical. This video gives a glimpse of how mesmerizing this work is as it celebrates the complex fragility of birds and humans with stark eloquence. Birds with Skymirrors does include reverent nudity, which is handled very tastefully in the video.
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), from The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Writers are encouraged to write about what they know. This has merit, but does it shortchange our imagination or compassion? When we take the time to tell the story of others, which requires empathy, interpretation, care and research, this can broaden our understanding and cross borders. The stories that inspired the following video poetry are not mine, but they are not unfamiliar. They float between us and around the corner from us, becoming part of the great cloud of our subconscious mind. When the unspeakable happens it makes ripples that resound through all of us.
Alouette is the French word for a family of birds English speakers know as larks. It is also the title of a French nursery song known all over the globe. The song is intended as a way to teach children the parts of the body, but, as with a great deal of children’s songs, there is a sadistic streak in it that cuts deep.
Lark, nice lark,
Lark, I will pluck you…
I will pluck your back. I will pluck your back.
And your tail!
And your feet!
And your wings!
And your neck!
And your eyes!
And your beak!
And your head!
Alouette is also the name of the Femmebot, who identifies this song with unmentionable abuse that has rendered her damaged and changed her nature. But who is she and what is that nature?
We ate the birds. We ate them. We wanted their songs to flow up through our throats and burst out of our mouths, and so we ate them. We wanted their feathers to bud from our flesh. We wanted their wings, we wanted to fly as they did, soar freely among the treetops and the clouds, and so we ate them. We speared them, we clubbed them, we tangled their feet in glue, we netted them, we spitted them, we threw them onto hot coals, and all for love, because we loved them. We wanted to be one with them. We wanted to hatch out of clean, smooth, beautiful eggs, as they did, back when we were young and agile and innocent of cause and effect, we did not want the mess of being born, and so we crammed the birds into our gullets, feathers and all, but it was no use, we couldn’t sing, not effortlessly as they do, we can’t fly, not without smoke and metal, and as for the eggs we don’t stand a chance. We’re mired in gravity, we’re earthbound. We’re ankle-deep in blood, and all because we ate the birds, we ate them a long time ago, when we still had the power to say no.
― Margaret Atwood, The Tent
La Mano Ajena, Alien Hand, is a Chilean band comprised of Rodrigo Latorre, saxophone, guitar, flute, keyboard and theremin; María Fernanda Carrasco, vocals, keyboard, melodica and percussion; Danka Villanueva, violin and marimba; Gabriel Moyla, accordion and saxophone; Jair Moreno, clarinet; Álvaro Sáez, drums, darbuka and djembe; and Cristian Aqueveque, bass, all of whom began their careers in Chilean theatre. Their music is an eclectic mix of styles from Europe and Latin America, including folk dances, klezmer, and jazz, among others. A mix of the comic and the serious that owes something to Brecht as well as to the dance halls of Europe in the 1940s and 50s, this video features a quirky tune called Aves Errantes, Wandering Birds, sung in French and Spanish.