Tuesday, May 7, 2013

two birds

I don't live alone, and that means that I share a kitchen and pantry, a living room, a dining room, and a bathroom.  I share a porch and all the other little spaces, too.  The cabinet under the sink where the dish towels are, where the plastic and paper bags from grocery outings are, where the cleaning products and the trash bags are; the drawer under the kitchen counter where the knives are; the cabinet in the back of the pantry where the bulky and seldom used kitchen items are; the two boxes under the pantry shelves where the tupperware containers and jar lids are; the drawers underneath the china cabinet where the sheets of floral patterned fabric and ceramic baking dishes are; the nook beside the plant table in the front room where our guitars are; the flat surfaces throughout the apartment where little piles of junk mail and books periodically build up and disperse.  This is all normal household living.  What I don't share is the attic studio where I am now.  My roommate and his girlfriend were preparing to leave for New York when I woke up this morning.  A pot of water was boiling on the stove, my roommate's new French press loaded and ready beside it.  I put another pot of water on the stove, sang a few lines of choo-choo cha-boogie, and headed to the attic to pee.   

The attic is very cool and quiet this morning.  It's mostly uninsulated and mostly unfinished.  Old sheets of fiberglass insulation sag from the roof rafters in some places.  There are white dots of bird shit on all the windowsills.  Birds nest under the eaves of the house and sometimes find their way inside.  Twice last winter I came up here and found dead starlings on the unfinished floor by the front window.  I took the first one to the back window and threw it onto the snow, three floors down in the back yard.  The snow at the time had crusted over, and the dead starling spanked it without ceremony.  It was dead; I hadn't killed it; but still I felt as if I had done the bird some cosmic disrespect by throwing it out the window.  I figured I would find it in the spring and deal with it then.  I put the second bird into a plastic grocery bag and carried it downstairs and outside, where I dropped it in the garbage.  Both birds were dead, stone dead.  They had become objects for disposal.  I would not throw an empty beer bottle out the window, but I threw that first bird out the window.  It seemed like a small, savage act, and one that I needed to repair.  When my landlords visited in the late winter, I told them about the birds, and we made another attempt to stuff the likely holes under the eaves to prevent future birds from becoming trapped up here.    

It's not that I mind dead bodies, nor do I mind the dots of bird shit.  In fact, the live birds that sometimes inhabit this space feel like companions to me.  What bothers me is the panic the birds feel as they repeatedly slam into the front window, looking for egress.  They come in assuming that they can come out, but they cannot.  I have shooed many trapped birds out.  They are all nervous.  They hop around, fly onto a rafter, perch momentarily, fly onto another rafter.  I open all the windows, follow them around methodically and slowly with a broom, encouraging them toward an open window.  This attic studio is a place of peace for me.  When I come up here, my anxieties do not follow me.  It's as if they are dumbbells or heavy pieces of furniture that cannot make it up the three flights of stairs between the apartment where I live, fret and love, and the attic where I look down on the neighborhood that embraces me.  We like to think of birds as creatures that are free to soar over the world, creatures that are free of earthly troubles, but I would never want to be a terrified starling in a middling artist's studio.       

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