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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The Spot

by Galvin Chapman

photography by Max Deeb

I saw your doppelganger yesterday. Between the smoldering asphalt and fifty feet of stacked bricks that provided both shade and a back rest to your evening pity-party. As I was stuck in downtown traffic, I was struck by whether you had any self-reflection left or if you had given up on that long ago. Maybe, introspection is a novelty, reserved for those who don’t need to worry about eating to stay alive or sleeping in comfort. Your sunken eyes fixated on a spot on the sidewalk. It seemed you hadn’t had enough energy to look anywhere else and that it didn’t bother you or phase you whatsoever that hundreds of feet shuffled past and trampled on the very spot you fixated upon. No eye movement, no reaction. Ever so prevalent was the aroma of apathy, mutually shared by every passerby and you alike.

“The Spot” though grown to mean much more than an arbitrary point in time, space and circumstance, had sparked your daydream. It was the conductor aboard your train of thought and he was hauling ass at top speed through your past. He turned back to you and offered you his half-empty 40oz of malt liguor, an offer you have never refused. He handed you the bottle, wiped his lips with his forearm and turned back to tend to the noisy tracks. Amid all the noise, the conductor screamed (because one must scream under such circumstances), “LOOK, I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU! YOUR PROSPECTIVE TRUTH IS QUITE SIMPLY A FUTURE PERSPECTIVE! YOU UNDERSTAND?” I’m not sure if you understood what he meant or if you even heard what he said. Nonetheless, you responded at a normal volume, “That’s fine, sure. I’ll just watch from back here. You just watch the road—or tracks—or whatever it is your job is.” He didn’t hear you. You sat back and watched from back there. You leaned your head up against the headrest in seat A-23 and your head rolled until you were facing out the window of the train. You watched with apathy as your major life events, stories, friends, family, enemies and acquaintances passed by:

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Mimosa Webworm

by Galvin Chapman

with photos by Max Deeb

“Don’t touch that!” She yells.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s just really pretty,” I reply. As I pull my hand away from the plant, it begins to slowly contract, as if to weakly clench whatever foreign object may be invading its grasp. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s a mimosa,” she explains, “it feels your presence. It’s its own being and has its own energy. You wouldn’t like to be poked in the face, would you?”

“Uh, no. I suppose your right, I just didn’t know, I guess,” I squeamishly reply.

“C’mon, the records are back here. I’m really excited to show you my stepdad’s collection,” she says, as she leads me to the garage, which is separate from the rest of the house.

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Inside the garage, boxes line the walls filled with family history and inherited belongings of the deceased. Items that once held significance in people’s lives now occupy untouched boxes on dusty shelves, kept as relics for their own, unused sanctity. In the corner of the garage a cheap record player sits on two Bankers boxes, wires exposed and connected to two speakers sitting on the concrete ground on either side of the makeshift stand. Above the record player is a one-foot-long shelf holding the weight of a couple dozen, stood up records. The rest of the garage remains empty and unused.

“As I was I saying earlier, the Dirty Projectors are this super eclectic folk band that I found in Steven’s collection of records,” she explains, as she thumbs through the foot-long shelf of records, “and I’ve been listening to this one record ‘Bitte Orca’ non-stop. I think they’re from the ‘70s or somethin’.”

She finds what she’s looking for and pulls out a record with a cover that looks like a portrait of two women: one woman has a blue tint over her face and the other has a red tint over her face. In the corner of the album cover is a quote by Rolling Stone praising the artistic value of the Dirty Projectors. Still looking at me with ecstatic eyes, she feels her way around the edge of the cover to find the opening and pulls out a red vinyl with streaks of white. She lifts the record player’s lid and gently places Bitte Orca onto the rubber plate of a revamped vintage machine.

“But I really want to show you this one song. It’s called ‘Two Doves.’ Fuckin’ brilliant.”

With a shaky hand, she lifts the tone arm and attempts to place it on the groove of “Two Doves.” Due to her slight inaccuracy, we hear the end of the previous track.

“This isn’t it, but just wait for this track to end. It’s really amazing.”

I take a seat on the cold concrete floor as the previous track comes to an end. She continues to stand with her eyes closed in peaceful anticipation of the upcoming song. I decide to lay back on the concrete and close my eyes in solidarity. The track begins with light finger picking on an acoustic guitar but is quickly interrupted by the harmonies of a string quartet. An interloping voice begins the first verse as I drift into a daydream reel of my day . . . 

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I woke up this morning to my mother shaking me awake at 6 AM. 

“Jared, wake up.”

I hazily woke up, prominent boner, confused as to what was going on.

“Your grandfather…he’s in a hospice.” She said.

“A what?” I asked.

“It may be the last time you can speak to him. I think you should get up and come down with me to his house. Your sister’s coming too. I think it’d be a good idea that you get up now.”

“Okay,” I grunted as I sat up in confusion. I sat there for a second, not grasping the reality of the situation and then poorly dressed myself.

I drove myself down to his house and walked through the back door where I was greeted by my uncle’s two labrador-mix puppies in suspicion. I ankled my way through the living room towards the kitchen where my aunt and mother were sitting at the dinner table. It didn’t seem like much was being said. It didn’t seem like there was much to be said. My aunt got up to greet me with a hug.

“Hi, bud. Dad’s in his room. His doctor set up a hospice for him, free of charge. There’s also a hospice aid in there monitoring him,” my aunt explained.

“Okay. Is he awake or responsive?” I asked, as I also greeted my mother with a hug and a kiss on the head.

“He hasn’t been awake, really, but I think he can sense our presence. He’s still there,” my mother explained. “Go on in.”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and started walking towards my grandfather’s master bedroom.

In his room, my grandfather laid peacefully in a temporary hospital bed with his mouth wide open, because he no longer possessed the strength to hold it closed. A stranger in the corner, who appeared to be the hospice aid, was enveloped in the enthralling world of Instagram on her phone. Everything else in his room remained the same: his pictures, my late grandmother’s antiques, and my grandfather’s watches. I walked over to my sister who stood bedside, hanging her head. I stood next to her and gazed at my grandfather’s state. The stranger in the corner chuckled at some diversion of reality on her phone.

“Hey Mary. Has he woken up at all since you’ve been here?” I asked her quietly.

“No, but he’s still responsive. Like he still feels our energy.” She responded. “Like when I hold his hand, it slowly clenches back, see?”

She grabbed his hand and it slowly clasped her hand back.

“Like those plants. What are they called again?” She asked.

“I’m not sure what you’re referring to.”

I patted his leg and began to ask him questions in a soft voice, as if he were a little child again.

“Hey Gramps, how are ya? You want some liquids or anything? How’s the medication treating ya?” He didn’t respond, but something told me he could hear me.

Mary and I stood there for a few minutes, not saying much. Something about the silence in moments like those bodes more value than any brilliantly crafted combination of words we could ever speak. Every so often, the hospice aid would chuckle at something on her phone. After a few minutes of standing there, my grandfather slightly opened his eyes.

“Hey Gramps, how are ya feelin’? Want some Gatorade?” I asked as I gently laid my hand on his leg. With all his might, he slowly nodded his head in agreement when the stranger in the corner interrupted.

“He can’t have any liquids. He’ll just choke it up.” She said.

“But, he looks so thirsty. He can’t have one small sip of water or Gatorade?” I asked annoyed.

“No, we are administering sufficient fluids to him through an IV.” She said as she went back to her captivating world of Instagram.

Mary and I fell back into silence as my grandfather slowly faded away once again. 

As I stood there in silence, I couldn’t help but question how I should be feeling. I had no idea how to react or behave. I couldn’t tell him that it was all going to be alright and that he’d be on the roof in no time, fixing the house. I couldn’t tell Mary that he’d soon be playing jokes on her again, making us all laugh. I couldn’t tell myself that he’d soon be playing harmonica with me on guitar, jamming to some basic, yet lively tune. I couldn’t turn to the stranger in the corner and yell at her apathy and total myopathy. And I certainly couldn’t stand there in silence, thinking about how I should be feeling, because this wasn’t about me. It was about him and his life and his family that he built and this home that he built and the years of mutual tireless love between him and my grandmother and all the people that fucked him over and all the people that he fucked over and all the people that think about him still and all the people that he still thinks about and the simple joys that consumed his life and his daily routines that only ceased a few days ago and will never come to fruition again—and then I took a pause in thought. I remembered that every Sunday morning, without fail, he would drive his banged-up truck over to the Ralph’s near his house to select a bouquet of flowers. He’d drive all the way down to Queen of Heaven Cemetery where my grandmother is buried. He’d pull out his beach chair and sit in the beating sun to pray, think, remember, love, cherish, grasp. And I began to weep. Mary didn’t say anything, but hung her head and rubbed my back.

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“Hey Gramps,” I heard my sister say quietly. I lifted my head and wiped my tears. My vision was blurred, but I saw his eyes, if not but a little slit of life. He reached out his hand to Mary and she greeted it with her touch.

“Ah…Mary, Jared. How are ya?” He barely said.

“Great, Gramps. How are ya feelin’?” She replied.

“Hey Gramps.” I replied.

“What are you…young people doing here? Huh? You should be out having fun. Now go home.” He said, as he normally does. Mary and I slightly chuckled as he drifted away again.

“We’re here for you Gramps, we love you.” She said. He responded with lip movement, but no sound.

“I think I have to get to class. Are you going to stay?” I asked Mary.

“No, I have to get to work.” She responded.

I turned to him and told him that we were leaving, but would be back soon and put my hand on his. His hand slowly clenched as his eyes opened one more time. The last time.

“Jared, Mary.” He said. Eyes of glass and throat of soil. He clung to life for his last words.

“Yes Gramps?” We asked.

“I love you.” He said as his eyes watered and his hand tightened around mine. Something about his eyes told me that he knew this would be the last time he’d see us. He knew these’d be the last words he spoke to us.

“We love you too Gramps.” I said.

“Love you Gramps.” Mary said.

We each gave him a hug, careful not to hurt him and left to attend to our responsibilities with broken hearts. Perhaps, that’s what she saw in me and that’s why she spoke to me when I arbitrarily chose a seat next to her in class later that day.

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“Hey,” she said. I didn’t think she was talking to me, so I pretended not to hear her.

“Hey,” she said a little louder as she tapped me on the shoulder.

To my right sat a woman, roughly my age, leaning in towards me with a half-smile and raised eyebrows.

“Hey,” I said, without much enthusiasm.

Her appearance represented that of your stereotypical punk girl. She was wearing steel toe Doc Martens to ensure her advantage in the event she had to kick in the teeth of Nazi scum. Her skin-tight, red, yellow, and blue plaid pants were covered in zippers, which are apparently designed for aesthetic purposes rather than practical, as they led nowhere. Her wide leather belt was lined with large metal hoops that disrupted the peace upon the slightest of movements. A tight-fitted leather choker was fastened around her neck, with sharp, pointed metal studs protruding. Her ripped up, off-white tank top exposed most of her torso and expressed her deep hatred for the police in her own handwriting. A tattoo accentuating her neck veins that I couldn’t quite make out started somewhere below her neck, continued up under the choker, and ended just at her jawline.

We spoke of nothing important, typical of most college classroom interactions. Despite this, she somehow seemed rather infatuated with me and invited me over to her house after class to listen to some of her step dad’s records. I was hesitant at first, because part of me didn’t want to interact with anyone. I wanted to be alone with my self-pity and memorial thoughts. But part of me thought that interpersonal interaction would be good for me, that it might take my mind off my day.

“Come on! It’ll be fun. I’ve been listening to this one record by this band called the Dirty Projectors, fucking amazing musicians. My mom and my step dad, Steven aren’t home, so no need to worry about that,” she said, attempting to convince me.

She stood there, hands wrapped around her backpack straps exposing her right knuckle tattoo that read “FUCK” and left knuckle tattoo “YALL” waiting for me to relent, as she knew I would.

I relented.

We walked for about a half mile from campus, during which she did most of the talking and I most of the affirmational responses. Plants and flowers of many varieties had claimed her front yard as their home, aiding the inoffensive blue and white house in blending in with its neighbors. We walked up the walkway splitting their garden in half and up the stoop to her front door, where she fumbled with a massive wad of keys. Excited to have company, she gave me a rather extensive tour of the house, stopping in the kitchen for a snack.

“But anyway, Steven’s records are in the garage in the back. Wanna check them out? He has a really cool collection that I’ve been really into lately,” she said ecstatically as she began to lead the way to the back door . . .

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I open my eyes and sit back up at the conclusion of the song. Maybe I’ve been daydreaming for more than one song? I’m not sure. She’s in the middle of a rant again about the Dirty Projectors. I wonder how long and whether I’ve responded to anything she’s said. I look down at my phone to see two missed calls and a pending message from my mother. I don’t want to open it. I know what it’s going to say.

I relent.

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IN LOVING MEMORY OF

THOMAS PATRICK ALOYSIUS GREEN AND

NORAH FRANCES GREEN