Birds – Mitchell Grabois

I’m an Animal Control Specialist
a special kind
I don’t capture feral cats
or snarling dogs
don’t deal with skunks
or live critters of any kind

I pick up dead birds at the base of wind turbines
and put them in plastic sacks

I sometimes see the
moment of impact
when flight and life simultaneously cease
Once I caught an eagle as it plummeted to earth
I didn’t know what to do with it
On impulse I hugged and kissed it goodbye
then felt stupid
was glad no one was there to see

I never knew birds were so intent on their destinations
so obsessive-compulsive and unaware
I’ve seen them swerve mid-air to avoid my car’s bumper
but up in the sky five-hundred feet
they don’t expect cars

They get into a rhythm of flight
in which their blood assumes
that the elevations are free of
obstacles’ strife
but blades express their evil intent
by spinning

I live within the perimeters of this “wind farm”
in my old family farmhouse
Many of these farmhouses have tumbled down
More will tumble as people escape
the noise and flicker
and the weird unexpected symptoms they bring
the pressure in the ears
dizziness and nausea
the inability to concentrate
I can go on
but part of my contract is that I can’t talk about it
can’t even mention it

So just forget it
You didn’t hear it from me

No one will buy these fucking houses
They are as damned as if they’d been erected
in a Stephen King novel

My grandfather used to sit on the front porch
and listen to birdsong
and he’d say to me: Did you hear that?
Do you know who that is?
as if the bird were a human being I’d met
an uncle or aunt
whose voice I should recognize

Jays, chickadees, robins, red-winged blackbirds
I don’t hear them anymore
can’t hear them through the constant loud drone
of turbine acoustic pollution
the whirring blades
the grinding gears

But I make my living picking up the dead birds
I pluck the feathers
before I dispose of them
and store them in old shoe boxes
in my grandfather’s office
where he wrote poems and published them in farm journals
under the pen name Al Falfa

I know I’m crazy, but I think maybe my dead grandpa
runs his hands through those loose feathers at night
the loose feathers of dead birds
whose ancestors he lived with

You might think my job is not full-time
but it is
because my boss at Consumer’s Energy
wants the birds gone
as soon as they hit the ground
if possible
He doesn’t want them laying around
for the anti-windmill photographers
to document
so all day I’m driving my rattle-trap Mazda pick-up
from one end of the township to the other

I grew up here
lived here all my life
but I never knew the place
“like the back of my hand”
until I followed Death around

23 thoughts on “Birds – Mitchell Grabois

  1. This very poignant. Two parts stand out for me:

    Once I caught an eagle as it plummeted to earth
    I didn’t know what to do with it
    On impulse I hugged and kissed it goodbye
    then felt stupid
    was glad no one was there to see

    and this:

    I grew up here
    lived here all my life
    but I never knew the place
    “like the back of my hand”
    until I followed Death around

    I appreciate the richness of emotion and association in this poem and how the speaker interacts with the birds who have passed as well as his late grandfather. This is very well done.

  2. Very interesting. Some very powerful images created for us, I love picturing your grandfather’s intense appreciation and awe for the birds in all their glorya nd individuality. And it is somethign that I haven’t thought about – the birds level of consciousness changing according to latitude. Did you really catch the eagle as it fell? Amazing honour while incredibly poignant and tragic. I like the writing, it seems vulnerable in its honesty.
    I am very interested in dead birds. The idea of getting close to these elusive wild creatures only through death has provided me with much inspiration. Over the years I have built up quite a collection of bird skulls found on the beaches of Ireland. On my blog I wrote about the process of finding them – the experience itself, the memories, being integral to the power of the final painting produced. I hold the skulls as both souvenir and specimen, relocating them in the studio where they can be studied and painted, where they represent a larger moment, place, land and sea scape.

    Puffin Head found Tory Island,oil on wood, 17 x 9 x 3cm, 2012

    I also found great descriptions in an old Victorian bird book, dramatic writing describing seabirds being shot.

    Great Black Backed Gull; lifeless on the sandy beach

    Look forward to seeing more of your work.

  3. Heartfelt writing. You emphasise the impact of the wind farm on both human and avian lives in a way that I would not have previously considered. I remember being close to some huge wind turbines on the Turkish Island of Bozcaada some years ago; obviously the information for tourists only described the benefits of them to the islanders. We rarely hear about the negative aspects of Green Energy projects.

    I empathise with your sense of loss; both the immediate loss of life and the slower loss of community. The absence of birdsong is a strange and unsettling thing; something I experienced twice in my life: once at a Nazi concentration camp I visited in the Czech Republic, and once at an ancient burial mound in England. One wee question: if the humans were adaptable enough to realise that the place was no longer fit to live in, will the birds follow their lead, given time? I’d like to think so, but maybe I’m overly optimistic.

    I hope, for your sake, that your boss doesn’t read this.

  4. I am really drawn your work, Mitch, not only because of how well written this poem is (it is one of the most lyrical I have encountered in awhile) but also because of the subject matter.

    I live in Southern Ontario where windfarms are very controversial, especially in rural areas. I go back and forth on this because I am a birder and I also want to see alternative energy projects succeed. I really admire the way you bring the ambiguity and complex nature of these issues forward here. This really is a stunning piece of work and I really admire it.

  5. Reblogged this on The Sand County and commented:
    Once again, The Blue Hour brings another gem out into the world. This poem is simply exquisite. What I admire most about it is how textured it is and how skillfully the author peels back the many complex layers surrounding our interaction with the natural world -especially when we are trying to live in a more harmonious way with the Earth.

  6. “Do you know who that is?” We do not name wild animals. It is easier to forget them if we don’t make them a ‘who.’ The eagle hold, and kiss reminds me of MANY personal experiences I have lived through. To this day, I say a prayer of blessing for “road kill,” and in that prayer, I say outloud . . . “You mattered to me.”

    I love the direct, yet sensitive way you write and your work will be on my radar.

    Many Blessings!

    ~Gerean Pflug for The Animal Spirits

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  8. This seems to read naturally as prose even though it is fragmented into short lines. Great content although I would be interested in seeing future pieces fragmented more sparsely to increase impact of particular parts/phrases.

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  15. If a poem can be a screaming plea for absolution, it can also be a public crying towel. and, so, this is…. Soaked in the blood of shame and bleeding tears of truth, the wind blows hard and shelter can be nowhere found. Sad, very sad…. and the Cosmos watches and cries for us, it’s hopeful ones…..

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