WHAT I AM NOT
By OneKind supporter Karen Lean
I am not free as a bird. What is freedom anyway, even at the best of times? Instinct drives us, so you could argue that freedom is merely a concept. In any case this is not the best of times and my instincts are meaningless in the present context. In so many ways I am not a bird, I am the space that is left when a bird is cut out, snip snip with little scissors around the shape. I am what remains, the negative space, the antithesis of bird. It is a black art to take something that you might call pure – a word you are fond of using – and turn it with great consistency into a horror show. Except this particular show is kept behind locked doors: the shameful secret: the mad wife in the attic. You have so many closets full of skeletons and fur coats. But still you insist on hanging pretty pictures on the walls, choosing to believe the convenient lies that keep you safe in your grand nests furnished with my feathers. I dare you to look in the mirror, see what monsters you have become. Or, do you really think the days of dragging clubs around and grunting were the monstrous days!
Oh, I used to be free, in a distant time – not free from care you understand, one must always be on the alert. But I think we would agree, the definition of freedom is more tied up with a basic physicality and from that point everything else radiates. One must be unrestrained in attending to bodily duties and movement. It is that simple, but your soaring imagination, your great skull full of ideas and compassion will not entertain this fact. The canaries tried to sing in your ear deep down in the dark: the dolphins don’t really smile when they jump through hoops – they are weeping.
I see a spoilt princeling sitting in his finery, entertained by jesters that did not apply for the position. When the entertainment palls, he mutters ‘Off with their heads!’ and turns to the banquet table, laid out with sunken swans, grinning boar, four and twenty blackbirds – all manner of creatures. He squeezes one more grape in pouting mouth and strokes his bulging gut.
Perhaps you were never talking about me anyway. You really meant the soaring eagle, or the albatross sailing the ocean winds year after year – or even the tiny swift high above the clouds sleeping on the wing. Is there envy in there? Is that why you insisted down the centuries of stripping each bird of its feathers and gluing them to yourself? You are flying too near the sun now. Can’t you smell the wax burning! There is a silence descending that you cannot hear above the din you make: it is a soundless bell that tolls for your ears alone.
I sit burning in my own urine – my legs can’t support this pumped-up body full of failing organs. My comb flops pale pink over lifeless eye. Or perhaps my featherless carcass is just a basket of eggs with pointless beak on the end. You will shake me ‘til I’m empty then toss me away. There is a stench and a din in this airless prison full of lunatics rocking in their straight jackets, waiting for hell to stop. I wish, like you, I could rest my head – I would dream of the jungle, wander the forest floor, unaware I was free because it was all I’d ever known. But this life? This is all I have ever known and it is not life. It is the negative space you have carved out for me with careless knives, day after day, as the coins pile up and dead bodies leak into land fill.
I am not free as a bird. I am not bird.