28 12 2009

it has turned me to air, it can fly right through me

it is only fitting that today I saw three Bewick wrens, low in the bare branched bushes along a wall.

Three!  It is as though I were suddenly wealthy, such featherings, such tails and eye stripes.

as if I were invisible

all twittering

the final trespass

Last winter, in Seattle’s biggest snow in a decade, the wren in our garden greeted me from the brush pile

In the snow, as beautiful and bright as ever

And here, they say, is why the wren is the King of the Birds, and why he is hunted midwinter.  This wintertime vitality, the slipping low appearing and disappearing, the voice, like a monarch’s.

Their faces are wings, & their bodies are uncovered.

Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence’s Hunting the Wren is a very  nice place to go if you want to learn how the sweet winter wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, transformed into the symbol of the king of the birds, the winter sacrifice, compounded with Christ.  The resurrection in a cauldron, the cages and the wrenboys. And all the mumming

Money I want, money I crave.

If you don’t give me money,

I’ll sweep yous all to your grave,

And bury the wren at your door.

The idea of the wren hunts has bothered me ever since I learned of them.  It is not the same as a bothering of other sorts of hunts; or of the consuming of small song birds in small towns in Europe (with napkins over the head, as Willie likes to remind me).  That’s something else entirely.

It is the archaic and strangeness of the custom tied in, wrapped around, confounded with what our relationship (Homo sapiens sapiens I mean) is to the wren (in this case Troglodytes troglodytes)–currently and thousands of years ago.  And it is the wren herself, to me the little Bewick’s Troglodytes bewickii–does she see me and can I possibly see her?

Again and again I stumble into the abyss, one abyss, between me and her (and all those other abysses, between her and the winter wren, between the winter wren and the house sparrow haunt this one deep chasm).  I want to be able to encompass her into myself and to offer her to you but she is utterly apart and separate and of course, I have said this before, you grow wearing of my ravenous longing.

The poor wren

The most diminutive of birds, will fight,

Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.

All is the fear and nothing is the love;

Enter the cauldron, your bones will rise again: the bird has flown out of reach and I am, to be quite honest, relieved.  She is safe and she is apart from me and I shall be nothing to her today.

They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly

The other problem with the wren hunt, apart from the central and biggest problem, that of the animal other and my desire, is the sheer complexity of its accumulated rituals and debris: all the skeins that criss-cross with the wren at the center.  I am pulled to the hunt by my attraction to the creature; I am also pulled by this sense of the depth (albeit short in biological terms) of time it represents.  It holds more meaning to and is more revealing of this winter-time darkness than the Christmas rituals bought and sold at market.

Put in your hand, pull out your purse

and give us something for the poor Wran!!

In all its multitudes, in the multitudes of species (more than 80), in the multitudes of individuals–these sweet and individual birds

little wren, that many a time hath sought

Shelter from showers, in huts, where I did dwell

the multitudes of humans making some sort of contact, albeit one of opening the door to death (and isn’t that generally the case when we try to go there, we are murderous) with the other and with other spaces of existence.

I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the wren

The multitudes of travels between here and whatever the beyond is: the wren is as much in thrall as we are to the space between life and death.  But we will make her a symbol and she will be the creature to travel back and forth and tell our futures and bring us news of those we’ve lost for we are impotent without her.

In the forest on the branches and the clotheslines
a fierce little wren singing loud, and high
while his eyes, insisting on their own life,
gave legs to the lie
that there was world, and time
to grow old in its light


As ever, I am a thief

quotes are from Denise Levertov, Larry Levis (thank you Debra DiBlasi for sharing this poem), Irish Wrenboys, William Shakespeare, Waterford Wrenboys, John Clare, Emily Dickinson and Shearwater




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