You’re sorry to hear that Dan’s bird Glen died last week.
Lately you’ve been wondering about bird life spans. Your friend mentioned something called “blue zones” over dinner, how humans that live by the water tend to live longer. Later that week, the librarian told you about a family of cardinals out his window, how one of them seemed young. That’s where it began, you asked how long birds live and he said: I have no earthly idea. So, you googled bird life spans and it turns out ‘blue zones’ seem to work the same for them. Albatrosses live the longest, sometimes more than fifty years. The biggest seabirds. You think Glen was a parrot, but you can’t remember for sure. You do remember that one of his token phrases was: Be right back!
You decide to put on a record of Dan singing folksongs while making eggs, thinking of him. Thinking of how you never met Glen. It is during the song “Pretty Polly” when you sit down at the table, and you wonder if “Pretty Polly” has anything to do with Polly-want-a-cracker. More googling. No, silly, it’s a murder ballad.
You chew your eggs and notice the cat asleep on the rug, lying next to something peculiar. You lean over to examine closer— two teeth. The cat’s baby teeth, you realize; identical twin-fangs, simultaneously fragile and bestial.
They’d been lying at your feet like an offering, like the way the stray cat used to leave dead birds at your doorstep. You decide they’re good luck and place them on your dresser. You’ll later return to put them in a small glass jar (Just the thing for baby cat teeth! you’d thought) only to find that one is missing. You figure one baby cat tooth is probably good enough luck. You seal the jar and try to finish your poem about the birds that drink from water fountains in the JFK airport.
All you have so far are the lines:
I am learning what the birds know, splashing in the water fountains at JFK / To be a stranger asking / To be in need of a glass of water
This morning, you receive a dream at your door from the traveling poet. You subscribed to his dream delivery service for a month, and this is the first you’ll receive. While you open the pink envelope, you wonder if you should have left a glass of water out for him. Your concern falls away as you begin to read the dream, transfixed.
It begins in an airport, where birds are flying around you. It ends with them cozying up to you, in your lap and on your shoulder.
You’re living in Birdland, now. You croon along with Patti Smith: “We like Birdland…” You always thought the word ‘like’ was surprisingly banal there, a thumbs-up when you’d expect hands folded in prayer. But the song knows all about how symbols can elude you: “It was if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars / ‘Cause when he looked up they started to slip.”
Later, you receive a text from Sarah. No words, just a picture of some sort of tropical bird. It looks like it has a pantsuit on and lots of things to say. It looks like it’s mid-speech about something absurdly petty. You tell Sarah how timely her message is, about Dan’s bird Glen, about the cat’s teeth, the bird-dreams at your door.
She responds, moments later: I thought it was funny because of the pantsuit.
* * *
Lauren Turner is a writer and musician (Lou Turner, Styrofoam Winos) in Nashville, TN. She is an MFA candidate at Randolph College and the author of Shape Note Singing, her debut chapbook from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. Turner’s most recent album Songs for John Venn was deemed “some kind of low-key masterpiece” by Aquarium Drunkard.
featured photo: “Nightbird Dream” by Ziona Riley