By Stephen S. Lottridge
I collect feathers.
I keep a basket full of them on top of one bookshelf.
I’ve stuck a few of them behind the thermostat by the kitchen.
I insert them in vases, glasses, cups.
I find myself unable to walk past one of them on the ground without stooping,
No matter how much my back is aching,
And at least picking it up for a quick greeting.
I show them everywhere,
So it should have been no surprise, I guess, when one day,
Just as I was just starting the car,
A woman walking by gave a sort of sidelong look,
Stopped, came right over, stuck her arm all the way in through my open window
And asked, pointing to the sheaf of feathers
Hanging from my rear-view mirror.
“Does that make you more aerodynamic.”
My eyes tracked from the feathers out along her tan arm to her big old baby blues
And sank into them for a couple of seconds
Before I smiled, reached up and flapped her full, warm arm playfully up and down
And said, “Sure does.”
And we both laughed.
I could feel her breath, warm and damp on my face.
Then she pulled back her arm, licked her glistening lips long and slow from one side to the other,
Gave me a big old brassy wink, stepped away
And swang her hefty hips on down the line.
And that was it.
A spicy little flirtation on
A sweltering August day
In a crammed parking lot with
The heat blasting in stinking waves off the pavement
At an anywhere shopping mall in God-knows-where, America.
But then, as I felt the weight of my aching, caving body
Sag into the seat
And the pimples of rank sweat pop on my skin,
I got to imagining.
What if I did have feathers?
I mean, what if I grew them?
What if my bones were porous, hollow?
What if I slid out of this seat belt slick as butter and
Floated out the window, soft as a chuckle, free as a giggle
And wafted up and out, past the acrid air,
Light and full-feathered?
Oh, no cadging pond duck I,
No pecking puff pigeon
No dumpster-diving magpie,
No mere canny kind of parasitic popinjay
Living on the detritus of homo sapiens,
But a sapient avian,
Free-flying, far-flying, high-flying
Wind drifter, thermal catcher,
No longer geostatic but an aerodynamo.
They say dreams about flying are sex dreams.
Well, let me tell you, this was orgasmic.
Bye, bye Gaia; hi there Heaven!
Up I float, where the air’s cooler, cleaner.
Where I can stretch and rustle my pin feathers,
Where my joints are oiled and I don’t weigh anything at all.
Best of all, where I have perspective.
What, maybe an arctic tern zipping pole to pole twice a year?
Could be a white pelican, flying so high you can’t see me without a good pair of binocs.
Or, hell, maybe just an everyday raven, black and shiny and smart,
Hanging out easy up there, above it all.
The raven is my totemic animal on one of the Native American medicine wheels.
So I’m toteming away up there,
Somewhere else entirely and happy as nobody’s business
When, whomp, down I come, heavy and flailing and bewildered
Achy, strapped in, sweat pouring, stink of fossil-fuel exhaust,
To find some guy pounding his knuckles on my hood,
His Dodge Ram Charger double-back-wheel diesel spewing death behind him,
Screaming red-snouted through my windshield,
“Hey, Mac, we ain’t got all day, for Christ sake, you pullin’ out or what?”
“Fuck you,” I think, but I got no fight in me, so
I nod, roll up the window where this all started,
Poke my trembling index at the A/C button, my heart whacking my ribs,
And I damn near kill the engine bucking out,
Hoping the ass hole doesn’t smash one of my windows as I lurch past.
The Buddha teaches us that we create suffering for ourselves when we believe that our happiness depends on things being different from the way they are. Fair enough, all well and good, can’t argue with that, profound, multi-millenial wisdom and all. At the same time, my teaching to you, based on those five minutes in that otherwise terrible day, when things were different from the way they are, is: If you ever get a chance to be a bird, take it, because some part of me, all the rest of that day, soared feathered and happy, somewhere else.