The tawny owl was filling me in on some fascinating details, a tragic tale as it turned out, and a cautionary one as well, about the wayward duck flying South, who was bushwhacked by a marauding gang of crows, pecked savagely in his numerous private parts, robbed of all his feathers, and plummeted, naked and dead, in my back yard.
He said, “You were asleep in your soft bird feather bed.”
“No real birds were harmed in the making of my bed. You know that. It’s 100% American synthetic.”
“In any case, you didn’t see.”
I said, “What do you mean I didn’t see? I saw. Sure, I did.”
He said, “You saw the sky that night, and how it was twisted by debris from thirty nine light years away, and the height and weight of the hurtling cosmic dust, and the inevitable conflict of wing and will spiralling, and the devastating fall?”
I said, “No, not the fall. But the aftermath.”
“Who are you trying to jerk off here? I know it can’t be me.”
“I hope that’s a rhetorical question.”
“I hope what you have is not too contagious.”
“I saw all the flies buzzing around the corpse.”
“And to you the aftermath is the same as the event?”
“I don’t think that’s what I meant.”
I could tell the tawny owl was starting to get revved up and heated in that way of his. I thought, uh oh. He said, “Uh huh.”
“I was looking at it a little differently.”
“You were looking into the mirror again.”
“Only a glance in passing.”
“You not even on the right day.”
“At least I’m trying. Doesn’t that count for something? Is it really such a big deal to fall short?”
He said, “Not to me. But I look at it from up here, not down there.”
Remorsefully, I said, “Okay, so what am I missing?”
The tawny owl has often described to me how humans who suffer from myopia, which is all humans as far as he can see, tend to mistake thin figure eights, the most important building blocks of the multiverse, for the straight lines they adore, in a typically self-serving sort of way. In the process, he usually spits out some gross greenish shit. It tends to be exaggerated with ochre. Invariably, some of it gets caught on the end of his beak. I have a hard time looking. I try to stare straight ahead and pretend I’m cool with it. I try to imagine ideal figure eights. But when it comes to picturing eruptive spirals, the next most important building blocks of the multiverse, forget it.
Ticked off, he said, “You people a mistake right from the beginning, if you ax me. You should have never left your cool home in the ocean. Now, you can’t swim, you can’t see, you can’t hear, and you sure as hell can’t fly. So what can you do?”
“There you go with that ‘you people’ stuff again. You know I take offense at that.”
“A big problem with all you people is you’re not proud of who you are.”
“I’m not ashamed.”
He said, “I would be.”
That was pretty much that, at least until the next time. After all, what can you say when you know you’re wrong? You can try to behave like a weasel and slip out of the lock on your head, or maintain a stubborn stance of denial and turn reddish, or attempt to stem the tide with same pale gesture of braggadocio, but what’s the fucking point of that? For me, I know that sort of stupid stuff only works on a human no smarter than my stupid self. I might as well be playing pocket pool. I consider it a matter of some honor, which vis a vis the tawny owl is pretty much the lone arrow I have in my quiver, that I was speechless.
Then I heard a sound about which I had heard, and marveled over, but had never actually heard. It was coming from the redwood forest of Nisene Marks. It sounded an awful lot like Big Mama Thornton. It felt an awful lot like hips were shaking loose from gulleys into grooves. I could picture walls crumbling down and trees shooting up. I could sense the tide and the swell. In my mind, that could mean only one thing. It had to be the lovely bump and grind wife of the tawny owl, the legendary, Thee Mrs.
Oh man, no lie, it was sweet to hear. I was sure I could feel the rumble of the earth. I could feel all the cogs in the gears slip sliding away and the fresh juices spinning away from their tethers. I tried to make myself believe I could rotate along with the cycle of life and life only, the one that connects in the gut. She was the real deal all right, and I could tell she was just getting started. The leaves in the trees were swaying like twentieth century flappers. She not only sounded like Big Mama Thornton, but she looked like her, too.
“My meat man is a sweet man… He brings me steak most days…and my wood man is a good man…He keeps me warm at night.”
The tawny owl said, “That’s my song.”
I said, “You’re a lucky man.”
He said, “Ain’t no luck.”
“It’s only an expression.”
“She my cool baby and my red hot mama. She warm as melted pig fat dripped on a sweet lizard tail. She can belt out a tune like nobody’s bidness in a voice from falsetto to bass. She can duplicate the warm sound of an old LP and kick out the jams like a raging machine. She gives me the shivers when she croons like Louis Armstrong and when she howls like Elmore James. Or when she do that do like Donna Summer. Or Etta James. Or The Shirelles, all of ’em. Or The Neville Brothers, all of ’em. Just about my favorite is when she sings like Betty Lavette. If you ax me, Betty Lavette is the lady’s answer to Otis Redding.”
I said, “C’mon, don’t you think I know that?”
He said, “When she gets me going it’s like flying low with my eyes closed. All the objects that seem to be in the way just disappear.”
I said, “When I close my eyes like that, I spin.”
He said, “You would.”
I said, “It doesn’t usually end up well.”
He said,”Uh huh.”
“My figure eights flatten out.”
Then he said, “I gotta go.”
When the tawny owl goes, he goes. He’s got somewhere to be. Being is not nothingness to him. He looks back and ahead with one deep breath. He twists, flicks, swoops, careens. He creates an upswell and a blowback. It’s deep down and it’s out there. It don’t start and it don’t stop. And it sure don’t end. What it is, is. Always has been. Always will be. Ain’t no luck, ain’t never been no luck. All you got to do is dig it while it’s happening. That’s all.