Blame Icarus and the sacrificial rites
in films when the bird the elders believe
to be a spirit spirals symbolically
above the virgin. So inhuman, that
view from above, fixed like a TV
forgotten on a still, the instant the image
burns itself into the circuitry.
The fall of knives the audience can’t see,
the fall of a someone no one cares about:
relegated to the aftermath—
what we know through paint, or the eye
of a camera—we’d like to squint,
let each pupil insecure and clueless spill
into its iris. Which is why the unworthy
crow tormented most with its hidden
seams. Strapped to the mast, its nest
brought the ordinarily myopic
to meditation. Through glass, horizonward
and telescoped, we could see for days
literally. The solitude was enormous.
Though in time, crows gave way to eagles
and sharper imitators, distant, private
bi-wings above deep canyons, helicopters
scouring East L.A. down to the Queen
Mary—even at night the cold green
infrared offering up its own
voyeurism, they say, a bird’s eye view.
We pay for it. And why not? The black
resistance of the retina, how it is
tuned like a trampoline to the faintest
space and weight, what time of day a leaf
will look like death, when the rocks crawl
as the sun slips below its horizon,
and the world returns whole again.
Da Vinci knew. If domes, the bell towers
and their patronage kept growing, man
would fly. It’s evolution. In the end,
though, only sketches remain of his wings,
assorted masterpieces, and his double-
helix staircase for a brothel. Unnerved
by the failure of flight, he looked down
the throat of a seedy den, I like to think,
to a famished crawl of senators,
their eyes swelling from torch light and promise
of the porno fresco above each door.
There, he opened up a new kind
of progress, a search for heaven elsewhere.
No waiting for the rich and lofty; no need
to wait in the darker cells where hands
became the eyes’ odd sisters fighting
for the right to show the mind who’s there.
* * *
Once, while killing sleep, I kept vigil
by the TV’s orbital window, watching
what else? nature shows. They seemed so savvy,
the French with their sparrow silhouettes.
Made in hopes of helping birds to see
the plexiglass mounted next to train tracks,
the decals flew across the continent,
peppering the eyes in passing trains.
Poised so contentedly: wings spread;
one aiming down, as if to dare time
the space between the ins and outs of wheels;
another straight up, a kind of cross
between a corkscrew and some shot of the old
Dracula actors just before imploding
into bats on strings. And thus reduced
to two dimensions, to scarecrows in fields
of electricity, they seemed on
the threshold between the world and what is
placed in front of it. This is real,
their outlines said, this wall and this France
painted on it, calling back the careless
bird from its own growing reflection.
It’s how I imagine head-on collisions,
head being literal, and that moment
of ecstatic impact. I’ve been close,
tunneling through a blasted mountain by train.
How could I know a mile away another
train raced toward me—two eyes on a green
monitor somewhere, blinking and closing
the gap. Then no sound, rather a vacuum
in which all sound funnels—a violent silence
blowing the carriage doors open in shock,
newspapers and curtains hovering
on the same air forced in my head,
into all the passengers, as we sank
back, eyes closed, with a muffled God.
And all the while he’s enjoying himself,
the engineer who follows the headlight’s bulb
until it grows to what the dearly departed
talk about if they return: the blinding
white light—they swear—and a thousand
disembodied souls rushing toward me.
* * *
Given time, our eyes lost their double
sense, spent on endless words, on pages
fanned open and meticulously picked apart,
the computer’s false fire, or just watching
the late movie with the lights out, night owls.
That train was the closest I came to a bird’s
blind flight into itself in glass.
And now I worry about my friends who bird.
Looking through a scope, can’t it too
become a sickness, addictive? Like booze
or bad fiction, call it the thrill of boredom,
of cataloging what pours into our brains.
I mean, once in high school, I said shoot,
and my friend did that day, his one eye
centering the crosshairs of the air-
rifle on a trivial kill, bringing
down the lump. So what can I tell you
about the smallest deaths? Times like those
the eyes could give us less than their blank onyx.
Or could I tell you that we cared? We didn’t.
In California then, three things were certain:
higher taxes, Malathion drops,
and the persistence of the famished coyote.
And come morning—the snow angel still
visible in the dirt—its body was gone.
Curled in their dens, what calls them out?
And how many we caught in our headlights
just staring. Who’s there? we’d ask. Who cares?
Half-drunk, half-frightened by our own bodies
and the power they had over us
wanted that glow-in-the-dark-skull green.
We’d reason the coyotes were like toys
pulled from cereal boxes. And they would,
always, stand frozen for an instant,
letting the night expand around them, slicked
back coats, we imagined, with the life
of prey. Then they’d rise, open their throats
with the high-pitched cry of a joker
who pulled one over on us. Or they were still,
waiting, I think now, for the divine
blow to the head, the arrow through the eye
we knew they deserved for the indifference
of their nature, of nature risen to
impostor. The moment hung, an immense
presence, the kind Julien Gracq described
atop the Aventine in Rome: that secret
district where it always seems an eye
is following you. Of course, nothing happened,
the same nothing that happens every minute.
The nothing of the horror of the day
come to its fulcrum, balancing on nerves
and allegory. And we sat and watched it
burn down like numbers from the start
of a film, waiting for our eyes to adjust.
Chad Davidson’s poems are forthcoming in DoubleTake, Pequod,
and Paris Review.