I’ve long assumed I could never form deep relationships with someone I can’t see—lock gazes with—eye to eye.
When I moved to live on the side of a mountain, I thought I would finally have a relationship with birds.
On the mountain, I was high enough to look down on clouds, rainbows, biplanes, hot air balloons, birds…
I anticipated no longer having to only look up at birds. The birds would no longer hold to a boring consistent position of looking down at me—important, I thought, because when that position becomes consistent, the act of shitting down becomes thoughtless.
When you have shared the open stare with someone, I thought there’d be a cost to shitting down on that someone—a relationship that will be damaged.
When your eyes have danced with another’s eyes, I thought nuances arise. The vulture can also cry.
When your eyes have danced with another’s eyes, I thought nuances arise. The glint from a hawk’s stare ceases to be synonymous with an unblinking sniper’s but becomes the possibility of mischief.
When your eyes have danced with a bird’s eyes, I thought you could trade stares mano a birdo and insist, “No, never swoop down on my kittens!”
When you’ve stood at the side of a mountain and stared at a bird helicoptering a position in front of you, I thought you could ignore one’s feathers and the other could ignore your lack of feathers to call each other “Sister” and “Brother.”
When you’ve looked deep into bird and bird has looked deep into you, I thought you then could judge whether the life you’re living is worthy, based on whether the bird will return to you when you caw out to the sky so infinite it looks empty to the haphazard eye.
All of the above and more are the possibilities raised, I thought, from moving to live on the side of a mountain. The birds did arrive. But they told me something different from my expectations.
The birds told me many things. Then they concluded, “All you will ever know of us is what you imagine or choose to believe and then impose upon us.”
Today, I know better than to let the kittens out of the kitchen door without someone to guard them from those of immense wing-spans suddenly sprouting shadows from the non-empty sky.
Today, I can pick up the luminous red- and purple-sheened feathers among the gravel and know them not to be gifts despite their silky feel.
Today, I comprehend the language uttered from beaks proclaiming the obvious, “I am bird; you are not.”
Outside, traversing the side of the mountain, I also don’t mind occasionally pausing to yell—or whisper—with my face inclined to the vast, non-empty sky, “Thank you.”
For the varied, complex birds have taught me, Everything has context. You cannot appreciate light without having experienced the dark. And sometimes distance is appropriate. So that distance may teach you to appreciate those already around you, nearer to you, standing on land by you, looking at you when your eyes were turned elsewhere, thus, away.
The Birds: This post is part of a new series called The Birds, revolving around personal stories relating to birds. Stories involving loss, being lost, stories involving birds, changing relationships to writing and being written, to writing practice, to self, to the sky. Submissions of personal and poetic essays related to the birds (essays on birds, a bird, a particular species of bird, all birds, your bird) are welcomed, encouraged, and can be emailed directly to: email@example.com.
Eileen R. Tabios’ most recent books include the experimental autobiography AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY and the poetry collections I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS and SUN STIGMATA. More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.com