"Into the mountain ( i will fall)"
Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons
‘We sometimes feel, in following the words and behavior of some of the characters of Dostoevsky, that they are living at once on the plane we know and on some other place of reality from which we are shut out.’--T.S. Eliot
There was an amazing moment yesterday morning: having said goodbye to my blf I poured another cup of coffee and got ready to get to work. The short story was nearly finished--it just needed one final push. I sat at my desk. It was time to do this like Brutus. That's when I heard a faint yet rapid high-pitched beeping coming from outside my apartment. I recognized it as the alarm on the carbon monoxide detector the landlord had installed in each unit. It kept repeating --four beeps at a time followed by a short pause. I knew from changing the batteries (twice a year on daylight savings) that three beeps in a row was the test amount--four was the real deal. I walked around my apartment attempting to hone into the direction of the sound. It seemed to be coming from upstairs, although it was possible that it was coming from the building behind mine, which was owned by the same company and identical in every way--in fact, the key to my front door opened its front door as well--something I discovered when I wandered up the wrong stoop one afternoon, deep in thought.
I figured I should head out and find the Jose the super, who was busy most mornings organizing the trash out front. Maybe the boiler was pumping the poisonous gas throughout the building, and my alarm hadn't gone off yet. Either that or someone might be passed out in their apartment...if that was the case, time was of the essence. I hustled about putting on my Northface and famous Spikez hightops--all along wondering if I was experiencing normal pre-breakfast weakness or the beginning symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. My alarm was still blinking it's peaceful "all clear" blink, but in order to be on the safe side, I decided to open my bedroom window as far as it would go and stick my head out onto the fire escape for a few deep breaths of fresh air. I almost never open my window all the way--especially not in the winter, and although I've lived in this apartment for several years, the fact that I could see so much of it made the view seem somehow different--brand new, in fact. I took deep breaths of the cool city air and looked around at the matrix of brown and black fire escapes hightlighted against the building's brick facades and stone columns.
My eyes happened to look up at the tree swaying in front of my fire escape, and it was then that I noticed a gigantic bird perched on one of its branches. It was so big it looked fake at first--like a cardboard cut out that someone had stuck on the tree. It was real though--as I watched, it gave it's back tail feathers a tight shake. This was no pigeon--even with its back to me it was obvious it was a hawk of some kind. It blended in against the bark of the tree--its feathers were white and tan with various swirls and shades of color that resembled the appearance of the bark. Its body was stout with a broad shoulders like a football player and a hunched, rounded head like an old-fashioned football helmet.
It must have felt my awestruck gaze because suddenly it turned around--head first, like in the Exorcist--followed by its body. I stood absolutely still as we faced each other, but only for a few seconds, as I allowed a fear to spring up inside of me that the mighty predator was going to fly straight into my apartment through the open window and pluck out my eyeballs with its talons.
I let out a high pitched screech, yanked my head back into the apartment and shoved the window shut--the shades falling down after them. I heard the far off beeping again and decided to open the window just a little bit.
My body surged with adrenaline. Holy Shit! I'd heard about the hawks who live on the UES, but I'd never seen them. To have been this close to one was a beautiful gift. I felt disappointed for giving in to such a silly fear. It was a very conscious choice--i felt the bird's gaze and instead of realizing the golden opportunity I freaked out and scurried away.
I gathered my things and went outside. The super didn't seem to think that the alarms were any big deal, but I have the feeling he moves in slow motion no matter what. The building could be in straight up FLAMES and I'm sure he'd just say, "ok, mami, ugotit," and shrug his shoulders the way he always does. I walked around the block a few times--incapable, it seemed, of going into the Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or Hot and Crusty that I passed and sitting down and blending in with the normals--even for a little while.
Eventually I came back and went inside without bothering to find Jose to confirm that everything was OK. I stood in the stairwell but I couldn't hear any beeping. Fuck it, I thought--I'd be dead by now if the place had been filling up with gas.
I felt down--something had happened before all of this and despite the miracle of the hawk I let myself be more and more deflated by it. I sat back down at my desk and went online to discover that based on his appearance, my visitor had in all likelihood been none other than the illustrious Palemale--long time NYC resident who was famous for having built a nest with his wife Lola on the ledge of a swanky 5th Avenue apartment building. A part of the nest was taken down by the building management and then put back up after nature groups and some of the wealthy building residents (including Mary Tyler Moore) staged public protests. Palemale and Lola haven't reproduced successfully since the original nest as disturbed.
Instead of letting this moment shine through I placed veil after veil of darkness upon it over the course of the rest of the day. Doubts, insecurities...sadness. On the one hand there was this event and on the other were all of these emotions, and i was reminded what a preacher friend had once told me that evil was: it wasn't just the boogie monster face of a terrorizing murderer--it was the illusion of being separate from things in the world--evil was the feeling of being disconnected--it was the fear and the sadness that filled up the space around our heads and bodies--the physical "places" that we believed we existed.
The reality is that we exist everywhere/every time: but I don't want to know that when I'm wallowing in an illusion.
Evil is not that which is seen but the way in which it is seen. Evil is about blinders and strict adherence to illogical propositions and black and white morals based on unchangeable ideas reinforced via discipline and punish.
Evil is not the distractions from the task at hand--it's the guilt we feel over being distracted.
We pay too much attention to the overwhelming, collective evils, but it's the tiny defeats--the cold glances and forgotten courtesies that are in constant war with our humanity.
Only later did the meaning of the gift become more transparent--when it occurred to me that had I never opened the shade I would never have seen the hawk--who knows--it was possible that he'd been outside every morning, and I just had never bothered to look.
I realized that what's truly tragic isn't to die searching in vain for wisdom, but to die with a window-shade thin membrane in your own body having been the only thing separating you from that for which you struggled.
The devil is doubt.
the hollow men