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The Zeitgeist Bird


Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things
are steered through all things.
    —Heraclitus
 
... like a huge wet bird on a branch, suddenly and without a
clear reason unexpectedly takes off in bold and joyous flight.
We all hear the shush of this flight. It stirs our imagination and
gives us energy; we begin to act.
    —Ryszard Kapuściński

Stopped at the light behind license plate XNG 1066,
I think, as anyone would, of the Battle of Hastings.
And what descendent of William or impassioned historian
is driving a battered white Sentra through the next millennium
up Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia? But, of course,
it's likely this message has got less to do with genetics
& a Norman fleet's floating on felled trees
across the English Channel than the random generation
of letters & digits by a central processing unit
at the DMV. And I feel afraid, for a moment, for my mind
that whirled so excitedly around a code that wasn't there.
Which is to say, the bird is not there, has not been there,
is extinct, if it ever was, Kapuściński's great zeitgeist bird
we think we hear some mornings lifting off as if stirred
by the whistle of cosmic winds to direct us into the next
great age, which I say now, without any evidence
to support me, will be less ironic than the last. Which
is to say, we direct ourselves though no one is directing, less
like those geese in a V going south & north & south again
behind their stalwart rotating frontmen than like a ball
of roosting blackbirds sent careening by a car alarm at dusk
from Shaffer Street's two dozen Bradford Pears. And
when they fall from the sky somewhere in Arkansas,
by the thousands, their breasts exploded from having
apparently flown into the brittle fortress of themselves,
an expert will materialize to assure us that even this
is no cause for concern, even this is far more common
than anyone would think. Psychiatrists call it apophenia,
an abundance of meaning; the symptom of finding in everything
the message everything lacks. In 1842, after carefully recording
every pinhole in the Bayeux Tapestry, someone set out
with needle & wool to restore it—& more or less did—so that
there now still are King Harold's men shoulder to shoulder
in tactical shield-wall formation: the spears in their right hands
raised already above their heads, while in their lefts, they cradle
to their chainmailed chests their brilliant blue & gold wings.


Kathleen Graber

American Poetry Review

September / October 2012


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