S.M., 67, a retired bricklayer in West Allis, WI

Birdy’s Pandemic Odyssey

Birdy felt like his life was going nowhere fast. Just out of a three-year army gig, with few skills other than shooting Howitzer cannons and being an expert in combat. He went down and signed up for college on the G.I. bill in Portales, New Mexico. Birdy planned to become a game warden, after one semester he discovered he must run for office. Politics was of no interest to him. He tried working on a peanut and sugar beet farm, it was a hand to mouth survival that held no future. He attempted to get unemployment, the State of New Mexico sent him to Muleshoe, Texas to pour and finish concrete cattle troughs. After a few weeks of eating dust and cow manure, he decided to walk three hundred miles north to the mountains.                                             

When Birdy awoke, he looked east and saw lines of umber and cerulean. Where the sky and land dropped off into an infinity abyss. He moved quickly and sure, he was a soldier, a hunter, and a warrior. At night, Birdy camped beside the Pecos River. Fish were leaping from the water to catch the freshly hatched swarms of gnats. He carried fishing hooks and line; he rigged a pole with a mesquite branch. Using corn, he soon had three native trout and two grass carp. Making a circle of river rocks, he built a smoke shelf oven of stones on one side of his campfire. He gathered driftwood and pinon for his fire. He found some pinon nuts to add to his supper. Birdy added damp grass to his fire shelf to help smoke fish for his journey. He watched the stars zinging across the galaxy and dreamed of beautiful gypsies dancing like seraphim through the cobblestone streets of Rumania. 

He walked thirty miles it felt like eighty, his feet were sore and swollen from his new army boots. That night he slept in his mummy bag from an Army Surplus store in Clovis. Crickets and grasshoppers chirped in the intense Van Gogh brilliant night. He remembered monkeys eating grasshoppers in South East Asia and people there eating both. He thought he was near Llano, a small village of crumbling adobe casas. His amigo, Lonzo worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, he always spoke of buying the town and turning it into a hippie haven. For growing herbs, vegetables, a few sheep, goats, and living free in love and peace.

Time ran away like herds of ghost jackalopes. He camped in a valley near a hill of petrified wood and fossils. Birdy felt surrounded by something mysterious, almost like spirits of evil. He built a shelter of stoned timber and sang some old Little Feat songs. He shook pulverized turquoise and colored corn in a circle around his camp as protection. Coyotes yipped and chased jackrabbits through the yucca and cat’s claw. 

Birdy marched north like a zombie phantom. Mirage after mirage kept telling him the mountains and water were near. Exhausted he lay down in an arroyo of sandstone. An angel flew down and whispered in his ear. He thought he was dreaming, the angel finally got tired and told him he was not worth her wasting her breath. That night he traveled north, until he saw the lights of a town. Again, he slept through most of the heat of the day. He washed himself in an irrigation ditch and found a cantina. Cold beer quenched his dry throat, the tequila was not bad either, or it took care of the dust. He ordered a steak, beans, tortillas, greens, and buttermilk. Birdy met a lovely senorita. She took him home and they whispered secrets of love long into the night, until Jupiter eclipsed the moon. 

As Birdy got closer to the mountains, he started hallucinating. He felt the earth tremble, like when the buffalo were the Sutekhs of the Llano Estacado. He had wanderlust and flesh lust and wanted to indulge in his overwhelming desires and thoughts. He remembered painted women, pigeon and cobra keepers, tight rope walkers, magicians, acrobats, belly dancers, tambourine players, and pretty women of all sizes, shapes, and skin color. He screamed in the rain and drank from the sky trying to figure where he went wrong and lost his way, until he was a crawling shadow in an unescapable spider web maze.

An Apache man from the past found him. Birdy awoke in a sweat lodge upon a bed of elk skins. The coquero gave him glabrous green leaves to chew. Soon he drifted into a campesino mystical haze. They ate rabbit and quail and soon Birdy was alone again to continue his journey toward the mountains. He found a mound of arrow heads, but somehow, he knew he should take only one. Suddenly a mountain appeared like a battleship in the high desert, a beautiful maiden waited to lead him up a steep trail. On a ledge was a wooden ladder that disappeared into vermillion orange, blue clouds. At the top of the ladder were the red cliff adobe abandoned casas and caves of the Ones That Had Gone Before, some called them the Anasazi. 

The maiden led Birdy up a ladder and down another ladder into a round kiva. They became one, they were contented like timber rattlesnakes sunning themselves on a granite mountain ledge. They could hear grass and corn growing, rivers singing, the ghosts of the ancient ones laughing and chanting. Kokopelli’s flute whispered and echoed, a feather dancing in the air. When Birdy awoke, his lady had vanished. He could hear a bear growling above the kiva. Instantaneously, Birdy became a butterfly, he flew into the bear’s mouth. Before the bear could swallow him, he flew away. 

[submitted on 4/4/2021]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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