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Saturday, August 04, 2007


by Shelley Ettinger

Some of these birds are so small and pass so fast, propelled at time-warp speed, they seem to me not natural creatures at all. More like futuristic flying machines. Tiny transistorized plasticine. Unlikely confabulations. The next generation of robots, perhaps; I wouldn't put it past the Pentagon and aviation industry to keep the wraps on something like that. Our feathered friends all dead—acid rain, the greenhouse effect—secretly replaced by contraptions conflated of gene-spliced avian DNA and synthetic aerodynamic material developed in top-secret labs. Painted high-tech hues. An innovative chemical mix. First generation experimental, ergo the wild haphazard unlikely appearance of some of these craft. Ridged beak red chest. Tufted plume tinged blue. Deep dusky gray for this throaty warbler, that busy thrifty nest-builder a mousy brown. And ah it's an eerie iridescent yellow for you, little gal or fellow of the weirdly wide wingspan. In olden days we'd lift our gaze, chickadee flycatcher grackle tanager, marvel at the whimsical ways of this wondrous world. No more. These colors too amazing, variety too crazy, flight too swift and evincing way more grace than any Mother Nature could possibly conceive. They can try, the white-coated creators of rainbow dazers, but they can't fool me.

Some birds stop and rest under the manse's eaves. Shelter from the midday heat. Dip their timorous miniscule feet. Furtive quick refreshment in gutters puddled with last night's rain. Cock their heads. Splash puff flutter display. Peck about a bit and take off. Peculiar conduct for mock beings. Unusually innovative programming, to mimic the behavior of living organisms. Then there's the way they dive and soar, dip, ascend, swoop, trace long languid routes then skid branchward for shimmying skin-of-their-teeth landings. I begin to doubt my deductions. They're laughing at me, discreetly of course behind politely tightly clamped beaks, but like no artificial apparatus I've ever seen. They also make mistakes. The occasional crash. Collisions when two try for the same crumb. The rather unbecoming worrying over worms. Constant tittering. Compulsive flitting. Like louche loopy lorgnetted gossipers divvying dish on a party line. They're actual birds, I'm driven to conclude. Too quirky to be fake, I see.

Some girls take a while to get it: what can I say? Monolinguist at a foreign film, I've a tin ear for fauna. An early morning chirp wakes me from each night's sleep: unfailingly I think I hear a touchtone phone. I've no feel for no nose for no frame of reference no innate sense no way to know the whole from the wrecked, the unspoiled from the dwindled by half, genuine article from fascimile. I admit: I'm unadapted for rural life. In the urban dodgescape I'm an accomplished negotiator. Sniff danger spy obstacles measure risk: navigate through hop around cross street. Here, terra unfirm beneath my city-slicker feet, I'm a beast of diminished capacity.

Shelley Ettinger's work has been published in Mississippi Review, Mizna, Mudlark,, Word Is Bond and other journals. She recently completed her first novel and am at work on collections of short fiction and poetry.