It Was Better to Be a Bird
For Jared Hathaway
“It was better to be bird as these Maya seem to have been, they kept moving their heads so nervously to stay alive, to keep alerted to what they were surrounded by, to watch it even for the snake they took it to be or that larger bird they had to be in awe of, the zopalote who fed on them when they were dead, or whom they looked at of a morning in a great black heap like locusts tearing up a dear had broken his wind or leg in the night.” Do you know that? It reads so strange, not even like one sentence, one thought, but makes sense, or to me at least. That’s Olsen; like that all the time. And he’s right, don’t you think; it would be better to be a bird, to be connected like all those people we call primitive, to be a totem animal or thing, to be it and through it connected into nature, not cut off as men something special and different. He says, Olsen says, it’s how man conceives of his relation to nature that counts. “For a man’s problem is to give his work his seriousness, a seriousness sufficient to cause the thing he makes to try to take its place along side the things of nature.” Like Jeffers, don’t you think, like that business about “creatures going about their business among the equally earnest elements of nature.” So perhaps we are all wrong with our god-men; it was better to be a bird, or for me, a fish. To be there in one element which was all, and part of your life, like the zopalote which float mile after mile motionless on those six-foot wings or like the albatross living always above, never landing, and feeding, somehow, on the air. For me a fish always in the same sea, the primeval substance. It was always there, the water, I am sure, long before everything, not just life, but even earth and flowers. And it will be there in the end. And even now, lying there beside the road, covered with oil, there seems to be a seething, as the wind ripples the surface, as if there, in the shadows, life is threatening to take real shape when no one is looking. That’s were I go, back to that, when life closes in, when the skin chokes off the things I know are there, know, not as man, but as just some other part and not special part, of nature. And the water restores all that, puts all in the right order, right place of importance, and me there too in my place, wherever that may be. When was the last like that? Some beach in Maine perhaps, six years ago, alone, in the fog, swimming. You never even asked how I was, am. Perhaps you know, still, really know I mean, and so have no need to ask. And I am, still; yeh, I am.