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[APRIL 2011.]

Your occasional bard, done at last with whipping around the particle accelerator of April at seventy percent lightspeed (those magnets! the head rush!) comes beaming out of the earth and says: Jeez, was für a week, we lost Joanna Russ and Poly Styrene both. People mean a lot of things when they talk about “seventies feminism,” but (seems to me, not having lived through it) it’s not often enough they mean punk’s eloquent howl. Hats off to the greatest generation!

Anyway Monday was the birthday, Google reminded me, of J.J. Audubon, whose name I have finally commenced to spell correctly, so how lucky to have spent the day previous at the Audubon sanctuary up in Marin, with egrets to watch, sandwiches to eat, a small arboreal newt climb-walking his way over the trail in the firm belief that his redwood-colored back rendered him undetectable, never mind the traffic-cone orange of his belly... my one day off this month.

I do a lot of coding in the yard, in the company of two juncos who, for a time, had constructive ambitions and scurried over the earth collecting grass stalks, including grass stalks still growing in the ground, which they extracted with a cartoonish sort of triple-backward hop before winging off. Nothing more needed to win one’s heart.

I have some leafy greens under care in a garden bin between the back wall and the back fence, where they get a couple hours of sunlight daily. Turns out that’s good enough for arugula if you keep it watered. Starting last week, whenever I turned on the garden hose a junco would shoot out from the scrub underneath the tap, land on the fence and hop in place there, peeping. They’re ground nesters. But they are also amazing concealment artists: every morning I take a minute or two to squint at the brush until I am assured that it can’t possibly contain a junco to be bothered, not on this particular day; then I turn the faucet and the bird erupts at me. It wants to lead me away, so after giving the vegetables a splash I follow it down the length of the fence. It goes in hops, keeping four or five feet ahead, until we reach the parking lot; then it shoots up into a tree, makes a louder call, and the mate flies in. If I keep still they seem to forget I’m around, and they’ll fly back down to the nest together.

So the juncos are okay and I love them. Joanna Russ has a point to make, though:


By then he was up. Quivering. He said, “Kill them.”

I sat up. “Why? They're just babies.”

“Babies? They’re banshees.”


And sparrows they were. Every sunrise the infants woke and screamed horror and starvation—you have no idea what that is like only a meter from your ear and no soundproofing—and opened their tiny, little, red beaks: feed me! feed me! (at about one hundred and sixty degrees’ extension) and drove their desperate parents, who probably wanted to sleep as much as I did, out to exhaust themselves and ruin their health finding enough polluted insects to cram thrice its own weight each day into that insatiable scarlet gullet. There is nothing—I repeat, nothing—in the homeothermic realm uglier or stupider than a baby bird.

So we’re both right. Anyway you get in rhetorical twists, talking of the life-drive:

Feed me, feed me, feed me! (Am I one, too?)

Read me, read me, read me!

That's all from We Who Are About To..., which is the book that matters to me (see here and here for two reasons), and it’s good to think that at least its author died in hospice (in Tucson, of all places), with her Do Not Resuscitate on file, and I don’t doubt highly ready to get quit of a suffering metabolism. Because like Ray was saying at the Audubon sanctuary, about cognition and narrative, —Well, a lot of my favorite books just repeat the same lesson: Give up, give up!— and like I was saying, —But you can’t give up, so that’s why it stays news.

why can't you?

My April: the Contour Plot


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