THIS ZOETROPE OF BLEEDING, FAITHLESS PIGEONS IN MY HEART
A flock of scarlet pigeons thunders round my thoughts.
If they were not pigeons what were they.
A failure of faith: When I was ten I lived across the canal, in FL, from my closest childhood friend. When I saw him yelling at me from across the canal I was excited, but when I got down to the water's edge I saw the body of a pigeon sitting on the ledge of the canal wall, dead. I yelled to my friend, echoing its deadness, "there's a dead pigeon on the wall!" He yelled back, "Is it alive? I shot it with a pellet gun!" The pigeon was obviously dead, sacrificed. The pigeon lay there on the wall & as I looked at it, I noticed the small bleeding wound in the center of its chest, & the little red stain spreading from the wound, outward across its feathers. I felt so sad for the small bird, so fragile. I felt sad in my stupid and repetitious emotions, but I simply yelled back, "Yeah, what do you want me to do with it?" He yelled back, in turn, "I dunno." So, with a quick gesture of my dirty tennis shoes, I kicked the pigeon into the brackish water, into black water, into the water to be eaten by fish, shrimp, & crabs, into the water to disappear, sacrificed. I kicked the pigeon into the water, & later that night I had a nightmare that I was the pigeon, shot in the chest, bleeding the pigeon's wound from my own chest. I had a nightmare that I was dead. I had a nightmare that I was in the animal wound, wounded.
The animal. The animal is in the world
like water in water, according to Bataille, because the animal does not experience death or eros in the wake
of tools or taboos. The human.
The human is always trying to rupture through taboos back into the continuity
animals experience like curd through cheese cloth, like blood through thick gauze, like a finger through a dragonfly wing. Spirit animals, I think, even as echoes of some premodern longing, even in their absurd forms on weblogs & internet quizzes, are a form of this desire
to break back into that animal
being. I feel.
I feel already ruptured, I feel like some part of me has already burst,
leaking through the silk pillowcase, even as I use tools to write,
in the spirit of my being where I am mostly animal. I feel ruptured from myself, but in practice I rarely take concepts like spirit animal seriously, at least not when I say them myself,
to myself. I have little faith, & what faith remains is tempered in form, small & deformed like an atavistic
appendage. But my faith & I are animals & are in animals ourselves, & we exist in intimacies with other animals, so when I say spirit & animal, maybe I simply mean animal intimacy within a spectral world, maybe I simply want to think beyond
rupturing. The leap.
The leap to spirits,
beyond the rupture, to the specters that surround all animals, feels less fraught: I assume the world to be spectral,
at least in the sense that we're all in the wake of dead things, surviving
poorly. & as we survive in this way, poorly formed & poorly performed, maybe a spirit animal is an animal that keeps reappearing until it becomes thematic & repetitious as a rotating door:
in my case, that door to the spirit, that animal, would be, bluntly,
the pigeon. I admit there's a certain banality to the choice—pigeons are ubiquitous, are flying rats, across the landscapes of the US during all seasons of the year. They're inescapable clichés: pigeons, taxes, & death. But even the most banal of objects can come to take on a new rhetoric, can begin to stand out, to erupt, from the background of forgettable & dying things that are, in fact, always already
erupting. This eruption.
For me, this eruption, this eruption
of pigeon, specifically, happened for the first time as I leaned against a cement wall at Chicago Union Station waiting for a bus to drive my partner & I back to Minneapolis. There on the curb, I noticed an obese pigeon puttering morbidly along the edge of the street, precariously close to the bus's tires, consuming bits of French fries, crushed peanut M&Ms, & chunks of ketchup-covered bread-product. This pigeon, this water in the water of my eyes, wasn't your normal winged rat—it was three times as large as the other birds around it, & was an iridescent red-gray, which stood out against the other birds' gray & blue tones. It had a clubfoot, its bones & skin grown together & forming
into a flat oddity at the end of one of its legs. I felt.
I felt like I could be the pigeon, & that it would be very Kafkaesque,
that is, if alienation could be injected with a little bit of cartoonish ridiculousness & corporate foodstuffs, sadly
as the animal nom-noms, like all animals nom, at the edge
of the pavement. That is,
if funny-sad were a more acceptable affective or aesthetic state. There's a way in which that pigeon seemed to embody the sort of chuckle that peeps up in the middle of grief, because someone loves you & tries to make you laugh, even in the saddest moments, even in a heart attack in the middle of a funeral, even as existence is mostly just survival against a background of dead or dying animals.
A failure of faith: My parents' farm has a large dairy barn whose upstairs hayloft is cordoned off & full of rotten hay. The space is infested with pigeons, dozens of them. Everything is covered in pigeon shit, like a layer of splattered latex paint, & the air is un-breathable. My mother asked the neighbor to kill the pigeons so they might clean out the barn, because she'd read that pigeons could give the cows infectious diseases. When the neighbor came, he brought his 10-year-old daughter & two .22 caliber rifles. They had to be careful not to shoot holes in the barn, so they only shot about 5 pigeons in an hour.
After they left, my mother found one of the birds shivering in the tall grass next to the barn, its wing broken from a gunshot. After they left, my mother felt sorry for this one bird, injured but still somehow alive, somehow, so she brought it in the house, put it in a cage, & nursed it back to health. The pigeon became a permanent fixture on the farm. My parents would tell the story of how the pigeon was shot, & say it was their best friend now, the story becoming as important as the bird itself, because, I guess, murder, like sex, brings things closer. Closer, that is, until the pigeon road away one day on the hood of another neighbor's truck, never to be seen again. After that, my parents constantly eyed up the other pigeons, looking for another one to take under their wing, binding it to the story & all.
Against that large archive of loss, of lost bodies, here is this bird, stupid, brilliant, disfigured, & full of corn syrup & fryer lard.
Against the world, against myself, a spirit animal, this pigeon, these pigeons, liquid in their puffing flesh, & liquid in the world.
Against the world, the pigeon is hilarious as it dies, as I die,
like we all do,
like we all are,
like water in water, like tears in tears, welling. Smiling
at the pigeon with tears in tears in the pupils of my eyes, in the reflective black,
I pointed the bird out to myself & to partner, "Look at him, he's f-ing
I pointed at the bird like a thing, but it overcame its thingness with its excess, its excesses f-ing out of the f-hole of its cello shaped breast meat, out of its swelling plumpness.
I pointed at the bird & the bird remained full of wonder to itself & to me.
I pointed & my partner agreed, "Aw, look at his little belly. It's so fat. He's a little chubster."
A failure of faith: Driving around the parking lot at Providence Place Mall, in Providence, in both the city & the divine concept, my partner & I were trapped in an endless cycle, moving between the levels of the parking garage, driving in circles, hoping to find a parking spot to participate in the circuitous exchange of circulating gifts around the holidays. There on the ramp, there on the level of the ramp that we drove past again & again looking for a parking spot, were two fat pigeons, paired together, puttering together, with a regular source of food, & an outdoor garage over their heads. Puttering through their lives. Their lives, like all of our lives, were still precarious, still bound to the poison of the discarded food, & to the grinding twists of cars on the parking ramps, but they seemed to have some kind of little & shitty utopia, that maybe some of us have, there together, there on the pavement together, & that seemed worth noticing. So, I stopped the car & rolled down the windows, & we just looked at the pigeons for a while, just admired them for a while, moving together, watching them move together, not moving ourselves to the movement of the parking lot, there for a moment, stilled, before a parking spot opened in front of us & we were pulled from our admiration, quickly, as though pulled physically, as though necessitated. But there is still that image of the pigeons there together, & us there taking in the cold air looking at them, & that moment, if only a memory, itself seems like a shitty utopia worth dwelling in, worth parking in, even if it holds up traffic.
The pigeon moved through the McDonalds wrappers & pecked further at the junk food, bringing all of the excess, all of the waste, around it into the well of its being, like wet junk
in a drain. "I feel like he's my spirit animal," I said.
"How do you know
it's a he?" This was an obvious question, given that I
study & write about gender, but I was projecting onto this bird, & the bird was projecting onto me, & I identify as male, if only poorly, & we were both poor in the categories
of ourselves. We were mirroring
each other. But what is it to mirror? The word mirror doesn't exist, only mirrors exist, & they crystallize the world between myself & the pigeon, as if I were sleepwalking
into an image in a mirror. The image.
The image is fat in both our bodies & our genders are ambiguous like flesh
in flesh. I said from that image, "Yeah, I guess
it's a queer pigeon. It's still my spirit animal
though." Not that I believed.
Not that I believed in spirit animals, not so bluntly anyway, but I did believe in the wistful connection I had to this bird.
I believed in the realness of the mirror, materially.
I believed in the realness of the image, majestically.
A failure of faith: The first "good" film I watched, or, at least, the first one I understood in any way beyond a surface of cartoonish affects, was Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. We didn't have cable, & there were only 4 channels on the television at my parent's house growing up, but I owned something like 10 VHS tapes, & Ghost Dog was one of them. I would watch it over & over again, thinking about form & nothingness, & the existential conundrums of urban samurai as quotes from Hagakure: the Book of the Samurai by Tsunetomo Yamamoto splashed on the screen. I would watch it & listen to the Wu Tang Clan's industrial, filmic minimalism as Forest Whitaker listened to it on the screen, filmic in the filmic music himself. I would watch the scene where Whitaker's character releases the pigeons on the roof where he lives, pigeons he uses to contact the mafia. I would watch as the character became ecstatic among the pigeons, & I would think about how it related to his selfless sacrifice of self at the end of the film, at the end of the film in a sad yet comic gesture. What does it mean to be formed into a body? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be pigeon? What meaning is there in words, when all of the communication in the film, all of that technology, all of the messages relayed through the pigeons, leads to violence? What does it mean that Whitaker's only friend is one he can't understand, is one who only speaks Haitian Creole & who gives him free ice cream cones from his truck that fatten him up, like myself, like so many pigeons? What alternate logic is in this intimate yet silent economy of gestures & glances & bodies? What is?
I believed in how this pigeon on the pavement made me aware of other pigeons, in a way attuned me, or, rather, un-tuned me, like a broken instrument to their feathered cacophony, to their raucous spirits, to their bodies reverberating, multiply, like Coltrane's Ascension.
In terms of attuning, I'm oddly thinking of Kierkegaard's Fear & Trembling, & especially of the often ignored section that opens the text, the "Exordium" ("Attunement"), that functions like a weird, little short story. Within it, Kierkegaard turns the story of Abraham & Isaac over & over on itself, repetitiously, four times, in order to prepare the reader, to attune the reader,
for the absurdity that is faith. Each of the four failed attempts, in contrast to the biblical version of the story, involve some version of emotion or affect
impinging on Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. By reading each of these failures the reader is able to prepare themselves for thinking about the act of sacrifice Abraham endured in all of its absurdity, & to accept that
absurdity. This cycle of attempts positions the reader to understand Abraham's faith as he prepares the altar & raises his knife against his son.
When I was 20 I found myself interested in that
faith. Now, past 30, I find myself more interested in attuning myself to the excesses of emotion that fall short of that faith, or un-attuning myself to faith, rather, so I can find myself in the odd eruptions of emotions that prevent sacrifice, because what we sacrifice silently in blind faith is often what is queer or odd, what is animal,
what is formally or aesthetically deemed insufficient.
A failure of faith: Robert Creeley talks about breeding Pigeons as a young boy in one of his early interviews, about how doing so taught him to pay attention to things, much in the way that one pays attention to a line of poetry. This attention, to both breeding & the line, reminded me of one of his last interviews, an interview I'd read years earlier in the last issue of Kiosk. In it, he described how he'd misread Williams, how he'd read the poems as having been written as single lines onto themselves, as though he were writing projective verse, & that this misreading had shaped his own approach to poetry. The dissonance between the misreading & the control & the attention Creeley seeks to find in the line, in the breeding of pigeons, is striking, as is the temporal dissonance through which I stumbled onto these interviews from different parts of his life at different times in my own. As Creeley describes, there is a lot of luck to breeding, a lot of lack of control over the genetic composition of birds, a lot of failures. He also describes how "show birds," even as they reach some formal ideal in the mind of the breeder, are no good for breeding themselves. A breeder needs to keep ample "stock birds" to pair & combine to obtain just a few "show birds." I admit I feel a bit uncomfortable with the whole idea of intentionally breeding birds for aesthetics, tooling birds to match some form, but, I do find some reassurance in the randomness of it all, in the fact that despite Creeley's attention, the genetics of the birds get out of his control, much like the genetics of the poetic tradition get out of his control as he misreads Williams. I admit that I find some comfort in the flight of embryonic combination, even if the world trying to position itself just so, just so in relation to other pigeons, just so in relation to the body's form.
& maybe the queer, overgrown
pigeon I encountered represents that which is sacrificed at the hands of blind faith.
& maybe I am queer and overgrown too.
& maybe the best place to place the sacrificial knife is in oneself, in the hole
of the navel filled with nothing, to see the water
inside the organs inside the animal inside of the water. To see that inside, violently,
is a kind of failure of faith, a failure that can only adjust the animal body towards the world by showing its failure, properly, through self-sacrifice, sacrifice of an internal space that would never dare impinge itself,
violently, on any other
animal. Speaking of animals:
at the end of the Abraham & Isaac tale a ram appears out of nowhere, spontaneously, & is sacrificed in Isaac's place. So, sacrifice still occurs, & an animal stands in for Isaac. It will die. Even with faith there will be blood,
be that blood human, inhuman, animal,
or queer. & this pigeon I am with in the mirror will die too, like we all will die. It will die of ingested fryer grease or a bus tire. It will die. There will be blood. So, maybe in the animal, as animals, we can un-tune ourselves from the rhetoric of violence, at least in its larger forms, at least from the more perverse & excessive acts of violence on a large scale. Speaking
of faith: there's another moment later in Fear & Trembling in which Kierkegaard says the knight of faith, who is represented best by Abraham, will appear outwardly like a tax collector, shopkeeper, or philistine bourgeois—if faith is that outwardly banal, & outward appearance of things is indeed full of a background of taxes,
pigeons, & death, what happens
when we let the weird forms of those things show themselves? What happens
when we let the queer & emotionally excessive show its aesthetically unpleasing forms out of that banality? What happens
when a sacrifice is denied? It seems we're left cycling
through the preparations, through the imperfect versions of faith, through affects & excesses of emotions. It seems we're left with those queer reactions
to the banality of death, to the banality of murder, to the death & dying were all surviving in. It seems apropos: we live in a world where murder is in its slowest forms everywhere. Murder is in the habits
of consumption, in the exploitation of consumerism, in the relegation
of minority bodies. Murder is in the slow & mindless movements, in the
exploitive deaths of queer things. There in those things
is murder & sacrifice, there in those things
is blood. Blood in blood. & I mean queer
in both the widest & most specific sense. I mean my body's
specific queerness, the differences in my intersexed genitals & the oddities of my secondary sexual characteristics, and my fat too, because there is always a kind of self-sacrifice
that involves one's always already imperfect form with the world, & I also mean queer (adj.) as in strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric, spoiled, or ruined. In line with this: Sara Ahmed retools Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception in her book Queer Phenomenology in order to describe the moment when the world stands out from itself, when our orientations down the standard paths, or lines, are broken
by affective reactions. Merleau-Ponty speaks to the movement of objects within perception, about the moments when they no longer stand familiarly in their place
& thus are "weird" or "queer." Ahmed extends this queer affective response to all reactions that deviate from what is
"natural"—the word "natural" being key. What is "natural" being
always already the accepted & reified forms of sexuality, race, gender, form,
& aesthetics. "Natural" being
the stilted expectations of form
bodies are expected to comport into, whether they fit into those forms or not. Form that might even be applied to faith, because if faith at its categorical peak is to be silently like a tax collector in the face of one's own death, while one's own death is swelling from all sides with multiplying oppressions, faith is nothing but a ruse,
& the failure to sacrifice is everything, as haphazard & as poorly formed as that everything might be in its form
& body, as poorly formed as it may be, even in its morals, even in its faith. Excess will never be clean or precise like a tax collector, but excess will always contain the fractured lens in the spinning
world of experiences. We need, we need to spin forward less violently attached to our tools & taboos, our world that magnifies violence.
A failure of faith: Feminist scholar Elizabeth Grosz links Darwin to feminism, & at one point in her work, she describes the aesthetics of peahens & peacocks, which are, I think, like large & excessive pigeons. Grosz gives an account of mating practices that links the aesthetic to the sexual selection on the part of the female, which is quite a different process than natural selection, although it is equally arbitrary, if not so intimately linked to survival in relation to ecology. The nonfunctional colors & aesthetic variation male birds exhibit is completely dependent on female selection, &, in fact, makes the ornamented peacocks more vulnerable to attack. This aesthetic excess is freed, I think, if just slightly, from the logic of violence, as bodies relate to other bodies in their excesses, slickly breeding together, commingling, in sex, in death, like water in water. The arbitrariness of our sexual selection, rather than the violence of our desire to reach back at that sexual selection, being the emphasis.
We need to get at this excess
below faith, at this intimate scale, at this rupture. So, I will not provide four attempts at faith leading, almost teleologically, to some perfect form
of faith, I will not provide a guide or a practice. I will provide a loose specificity
of images like a camera pointed at the cusp of the door as it spins
back onto itself & provides an image of the body
in relation to the animal. We are in the animal zoetrope
like water in water, & this zoetrope of my own poor faith, small in the pool of us all, is flooded with the intimacy
A failure at faith: I like to think about bodies on the cellular level, on the material level. If one slices into the gonad of a pigeon & into the gonad of a human, there inside there are cells that open & collapse on each other, dying into the background, being in & of the liquid in flesh. If one looks at the cells they look the same in the optics of the microscope that makes, through its vision, the world into so many things. In the optics of the gonads, in the optics in the internal formations of the cell, there is only a flood in a flood, an animal in an animal, un-tooled of gender, of class, of race, of species, of ontic specificity. If one slices into the world inside of oneself, through the optics of the eye, like in Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou, notice, there is queer material inside of queer material oozing, & every bit of it is different, is specific.
So, here, in these last flutters that are both the beginning & the end of the zoetrope, of the door's movement, there will no epiphantic conclusion, just a repetition
of images, of moments, of ideas, fluttering
like a door,
like a zoetrope, showing some failures
of faith, some intimacies
with animals, in the these many, repeating,
failures of faith here imagined against the deaths we now survive.
A failure of faith: To rupture. A rupture of bodies into minor forms of violence in minor keys, kaleidoscopic.
A failure of faith: The heart. The heart inside of the heart, & its blood inside its blood bleeding.
A failure of faith: This pastiche. This pastiche runs through every molecule as it fails into another molecule on cue.
A failure of faith: Our love. Our love that's a failure in its perfection is alive & beating in the blood's dereliction, in our collapsing intimacy, so beautiful at its breaks.
A failure of faith: A wave. A wave on the shore breaking back on itself into waves in waves, into our loving continuity.
A failure of faith: To be ecstatic. To be ecstatic, spinning, continuously, twisted back on oneself like a Möbius strip.