Birds Perched

by Galvin Chapman

with photos by Max Deeb

This morning I woke up an extra hour early to hear the beautiful dialect of birds perched on trees and telephone wires. They’re screaming at each other. There’s nothing quite like sipping a cup of coffee on the front porch listening to nature in the sky run its course while nature on the ground ignores it, all the while slowly destroying it. I emphatically slap whole conversations over the birds’ tunes

“Move over! This is my fuckin’ branch!”

“Wanna bang? Come on, let’s fuck, you know you want to.”

“Out of my way y’all! I’m the big dog around here. Any bird food left out for us is mine. You may proceed eating when I say I’m done.” That one actually happened.

“Alright, so here’s the plan: Through that tree, under the light post, between the telephone wires, switch-back around the telephone pole, scale the asphalt, back up over this house and then back onto this branch that we’re on. Ready? Go!”

They go on like this in my head for what seems like hours but could only have been ten minutes judging from the length of my cigarette. I put my cigarette out and continue to enjoy the madness in the sky.

At my house, there is a perpetual hum coming from any and all nearby cities. It’s one of those things you don’t notice all of the time and you’re probably better off that way. Every once in awhile I like to focus in on it—try to think of all of the individual machines and humans accumulating to create that wall of sound: a truck whizzing by on the freeway; a man screaming at his wife for cheating on him; a little league Cubs player hitting a homerun; the alarm of a shop sounding after its front window gets smashed in with a rock; the choir at St. Anthony’s church harmonizing; the coughing cacophony of three fourteen-year-old boys smoking weed for the first time; and of course the man walking down the street, soon to be walking past my house, screaming at the top of his lungs about everything and nothing at all.

“Oh! Dad! Is a good day at work tomorrow night and I am having a good time to do that, hmmmm…I need to get a chance to…GET A JOB! I tell ya, that is the best thing I can do Sunday for guitar on the phone with me and had me check in with my baby, but I told him. I said, ‘You have the negligence of a teenage boy and that’s quite alright with your mother.’ That’s what I said and today is no different. Nope. I tell ya, if I had any self-respect—any at all—I’d put down the remote TODAY!”

His rambling sort of fades after he passes my house and as his distance grows relative to me. I go back inside to make myself some more coffee.

When I have a task to focus on, I forget all about the screaming birds or the hum of surrounding cities. I forget all about Sunday for guitar and, instead begin thinking about the difference between the definitions of normalcy and insanity. It’s like monotonous activities are the incandescent filaments to my ingenuity. Even a task as simple as making a cup of coffee sends me into a subconscious oblivion of creativity. Unless, of course, a loud thump divides that attention, as it does on this particular morning. I initially assume my brother had slammed the door in frustration or by accident as he comes out of his room in reaction to the noise. 

It was only after he asked me, “What the fuck was that noise? Did you drop something?” did I realize that this was not a noise either of us had made.

I genuinely respond to him, “Naw man. I thought that was you slamming the door for some reason.”

Inconclusive, we decide to investigate. We begin by walking to the front of the house, where we suspect the noise to have come from. On the giant paned window that makes up most of the front wall of our house, we find a large, imperfect, circular smudge.

“Did somebody throw some shit at our house?” I rhetorically inquire.

My brother walks to the front door and opens it. He looks around our front porch for a second when he finally seems to have discovered the culprit.

“Aw, dude. This is fucked up.”

Our front porch is almost entirely made up of bricks. On top of those bricks, a bird lays twitching every couple of seconds. Its head and neck are completely displaced. It seems to be trying to move but is just slowly moving in circles without successfully getting anywhere. As it continues to struggle for whatever possibility of life it has left, my brother and I watch with hurting eyes. I have no idea what to do. Pick it up and put it in the bushes somewhere? Leave it be? We soon find ourselves sitting down as we continue to watch this bird cling to life. After a few minutes, my brother finally makes up his mind.

“I’m just gonna do it. I’m gonna put it out of its misery. It doesn’t deserve to suffer like this. And if I have the opportunity to end this suffering, then I’d say I have a moral obligation to do so. I mean, it just wouldn’t be humane to let it suffer like this, right? Like, you see where I’m coming from, right?”

How the fuck would we know what this bird deserves or doesn’t deserve? What if this bird has raped other birds and committed acts of discrimination? What if this particular bird killed other birds, would it still deserve saving? And even if this bird did deserve to be put out of its misery, is that our decision to make? Who are we to decide whether a bird deserves saving or not? Do we determine the rules of moral conduct? Isn’t killing—no matter what—morally impermissible? And if so, why wouldn’t it be in a situation such as this? I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions and too many thoughts are running through my head for me to respond effectively.

“I don’t know man. I—I really don’t know.”

Confused, yet driven by his desire to take a shitty situation into his own hands, my brother finally makes a decision.

“I’m gonna do it. I’m just gonna put it out of its misery. It’ll be quick and hopefully a better way for this poor little dude.”

I don’t respond. I don’t know how to respond. So, I sit there and watch my brother carry out the task at hand. Nothing else matters to him. With a shovel, he picks up the bird and brings it over to the grass.

He cancels out the hum from the surrounding cities. 

He walks around the yard until he decides on a rock large enough to get the job done.

He cancels out the sound of birds screaming at each other. 

He stands over the bird holding the rock above his head. His breath becomes heavier. His lips pucker. His eyes are red and filled with fear, anxiety, and sadness. 

He cancels out the sound of moral subjectivity. 

He makes a motion as if he’s about to do it but can’t follow through with it. 

He cancels out the judgments of others. 

Then, with one downwards thrust of his arms, the bird is gone, yet remains. He stands there for a couple of minutes, head buried in his arms.

Finally, without heart he says, “I’m gonna bury it. Over here I guess. I guess that’s what I’ll do.”


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