Baudelaire wrote about an albatross.
I am going to write to you about a bird
that lived in the forest adjacent to my childhood backyard.
Vonnegut ends Slaughterhouse Five with poo-tee-tweet,
and I will end this with hee-hee,
the call of my bird.
Once upon a time, there was a bird. They called her a Passenger Pigeon. She flew with her flock across the sky. Some say there were enough of them to block the sun out.
Eclipsing, they were moons.
In my memories,
I see myself dancing. My feet are
kissing the green, cut grass
at my toes. And I am
humming hee-hee, hee-hee.
And she calls back to me.
The Passenger Pigeon was the Queen of the eastern coast of North America.
She ruled placidly and all the animals loved her.
They loved her despite the fact she and her flock would never sing beautifully.
They loved their birdsongs because they were imperfect.
Once upon a time, a group of men boarded a ship bound for a new and better land. They called it America. They brought guns with them. Stacked in rows on their ship.
I am spinning, circling,
Looking up at the sky. The grass is
below me and the beginnings
of the woods are on my right.
Hee-hee, I call. I want to see her.
The sky only blurs.
The men anchor their ship and walk up the rock-crusted shore to meet their queen. She sings to them: Welcome. It is a shrill and strident noise. They cover their ears—all but one man. He cocks his gun and fires. He misses the Queen and hits one of her flock.
She flies away.
I look for a speck of red in the blur. Hee-hee, I sing.
A man who calls himself a doctor picks up the bird. He cuts it open and deems its blood a cure for eye diseases.
For the first time, the Queen is angry.
Death changes her. She stops believing.
Fingers dance in the blood. The hands of the men dance in the bird’s blood, and then they smear the red liquid across their lids.
The Queen rallies her flock behind her. They ascend into the sky, blocking out the sun, squealing their out-of-tune bird songs. They fly over the men.
Sometimes we think we have been cured.
In the coming months, the men are plagued by disease and starvation. The foreign land called America has betrayed them.
The Queen’s flock blocks out the sun daily.
A rumor starts:
When the sun is blocked by birds, it is an omen.
Death and hardship will surely follow.
And sometimes we are scared.
The men are dying. They have nothing aside from their guns. They load them and c*** them. This is the dignity they must cling to.
The sky goes dark. They fire, red into the Queen’s flock.
She is the one who blocks out the sun.
She must be the cause of their pain.
In my backyard, I am alone. My small and spinning body comes to a stop. The wind rustles my hair. Hee-hee, I call, desperately, once more.
The men keep shooting, and the Queen’s anger becomes maddening. She leads her flock into their fire daily.
She has forgotten the reason she stopped believing.
And now, she has lost the power to block out the sun.
In my memory,
I begin to forget her.
I begin to stop believing in her.
Once upon a time, the Queen lost her flock to the men’s bullets.
Hee-hee, I call out. Hee-hee.
On the final day, the Queen looked around her forest. The men were destroying it. They were cutting down her trees and building things they called houses. More and more arrived on big, wooden ships, full of guns. And they shot and shot until only the Queen was left.
The Queen flew out of her forest with her head held high, screaming her birdsong, now bittered by revenge.
She flew across the sun and became a sole, black speck.
The sky is turning
gray with rain clouds blown
in by the wind. I decide
to go back inside and play.
A man sees her in the sky. He c***s his gun and fires at her.
The Queen falls.
He brings the Queen to the doctor. The doctor now has a daughter. Will you fix her? she asks. He shakes his head and cuts open the Queen’s stomach. His fingers are red. He smears them across his daughter’s lashes.
At least she will be safe.
My father locks the door behind me.
Looks like it’s about to storm, he says.
I go to my room and choose
a doll to nurse. Rain begins to
streak the windowpane. I open
my window anyways. I remember her
once more. It’s a fleeting moment.
But, in that moment,
Once upon a time, a Queen sang: Hee-hee.