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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Stoic Posed Crickets are the Storm

by Galvin Chapman

with photos by Max Deeb

The crickets have moved into my room. Or maybe I’ve moved into theirs. Either way, we typically live in peace, until nightfall. Throughout the day I make music with them as they stick to their predictable rhythms and me, my predictable musical dependence. Either that, or we just live side by side, disconnected. Aware of each other’s presence, yet independent in action. Like a relationship that’s gone on far too long, we aren’t delighted to see each other anymore, but tolerant of each other’s presence.

My behavior is far from tolerant, though. I come home at 4 a.m., shitfaced and shifty eyed. When she hears me come in, she cowers because she knows what comes next.

“Where is the bitch!?!” I yell to myself as I search for her.

I drunkenly check every nook and cranny of my room; check every corner where the walls meet the ceiling; check underneath every piece of furniture that is lifted just high enough for a bitch to fit; lift every piece of clothing lazily left in an unorganized fashion.

“I know you’re here somewhere, motherfucker!”

Finally, I lift a shirt of mine from off the ground, and there, stoic posed, stands a cricket, fearless. She knows I will never catch her and, so, she stands in peaceful cognizance. We make eye contact and stand still for a moment. Then. I swipe, using my shirt as a weapon and she dodges in confusion of our coexisting relationship. Somehow, she finds refuge out of site and resides in safety somewhere new. I soon forget of my failure and pass out, only to wake up in moments to a new day. If my bed is the ocean, then the crickets are the storm. Zeno would be ashamed.

I wake up alone and surrounded by silent crickets. I check my phone and find that Finn has texted me. He wants to meet for coffee. So, Finn and I meet up for coffee that afternoon. We haven’t seen each other in months, although we proclaim to be best friends. After ordering our coffees, we head straight for the patio seats out front, where we proceed to chain smoke for hours over conversation.

“…and then she called me, at like 5 in the morning, crying. I had to console her for like 2 hours.” He complains.

“Well, what did she expect?” I ask rhetorically, “She hit up her ex-boyfriend, who had clearly treated her like shit in the past, and then he treated her like shit again. Like, did she think this time would be different? Did she think he had changed or did she just forget in the moment what had happened to her in the past?”

“I don’t know, man. I think she just wanted to be close to somebody.” He responds.

“Look, I’m not saying that what this dude did to her was okay, but it was clearly stupid of her to think that if she fucked him, he wouldn’t treat her like shit. I mean, people’s romantic lives are so full of shit. Like, it seems like it’s pretty clear to me: if you don’t want something bad to happen to you, then don’t fuck, or hang out with someone who has done something bad to you in the past. So, if someone treats you well, and they meet your other standards of a romantic partner, then great and stay. If someone treats you like shit, then dip. Being single isn’t a fucking death wish, it’s a blessing, if you should be so lucky. And most people would probably be much better off emotionally if they were single rather than pissing away their lives in the shitty relationships that they refuse to end. Like, how the fuck are there so many romantically masochistic people out there? Like you, for example.”

“What do you mean me? I’m not romantically masochistic!”

“Dude, just last weekend you called me crying that your girlfriend was trying to beat the shit out of you and that as you were trying to run away from her, she tore off your shirt. You told me that as you were running down the street in tears, you could hear her screaming at you that she was going to call the cops on you. All because you wanted to grab a beer with some friends.”

“Well, yeah, but that was more of a miscommunication, really.”

“What are you so scared of? What about being alone is so terrifying to you?”

“What do you mean? I’m not scared of being alone”

“Yeah? When was the last time you were single for longer than 3 months? Huh?”

“I don’t know, maybe…”

“Since before you even had sex, man. That’s how long. You haven’t even been an adult and single at the same time yet. You have no idea what life is like without a romantic partner. Don’t you wonder? Isn’t there some part of you that fantasizes about being alone and free?”

“I mean, I don’t know what to tell you, man. I happened to be lucky and run into amazing women immediately after ending relationships. It’s not a personality pattern, it’s just what happened coincidentally. No need to look into it any further.”

“Coincidence? No. When someone beats the shit out of you and you continue to stand by their side, that’s called commitment. Commitment is a decision, not a coincidence. You’re committed to being with this person romantically, despite all of the shitty things she has done to you. And the list is long, my friend.”

“Ah, the list isn’t that long, man. Look, I’m not interested in leaving her, she means the world to me and I’d do–”

“Well, you’re clearly extraordinarily terrified of being alone. Why else would you endure endless crappy television shows and shitty predictable sex (or lack thereof)? Why else would you stick around after she attempts to beat the shit out of you, simply because you wanted to go hang out with your friends? Why else wouldn’t you leave after being cut-off emotionally and verbally from your friends and family? Why wouldn’t you walk away when she started shit with every one of your best friends, after which, every one of your best friends independently warned you that she has a warped sense of reality? What about the time she threatened to call the cops on you, after she beat the shit out of herself, only to claim you were the abusive perpetrator? Like, she was actually willing to send you to jail, because you didn’t want to stay in that night. And still, you sit here in front me, asking for my ear, to hear you—more importantly—listen to you complain about the next example of how shitty she treats you and as a result, how fearful you are of being alone. And, without hesitation, I will sit here and listen to you all day about your problems with this chick—no hesitation, because I fucking love you and want you to have somebody to lean on and depend on and shit. But sometimes, man, I need to return the favor and express my true feelings on the matter, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I mean, why? Just give me one good reason why—”

“Because of love! I love her dude. I’m sorry you can’t understand that, because you have never felt the same way about somebody, but one day, when you do feel the same way about somebody, then maybe you’ll understand. And I’ll sit here and listen to your bulshit problems that you’re going through with your love. And I’ll offer suggestions that aren’t just ‘you’re scared of being alone dude,’ because I care about you and I want your love to succeed. But love is hard. And love has problems. And love is annoying and restraining. And love comes in different shapes and sizes and not all shapes and sizes are going to fit you, man. You understand?”

“Love? You call all the examples I just laid out for you: Love? That’s the shape and size of your fucking love? Wake the fuck up dude! This isn’t a fucking philosophy debate, this is your life. This is how you treat yourself and this is your happiness. This is how you live and this is ‘love’ as a result of that. If any of the basic human emotional needs were met by your unusual definition of love, then I’d buy it, but that’s simply not the case, man. This is fear. You’re scared of being alone and it’s okay to admit that. Admitting it isn’t going to be the end of your relationship. And I’m not asking you to fucking break up with your girlfriend. I’m just laying out a different perspective for you to absorb, one that I also happen to agree with. Take what you want from that perspective, but please don’t just flat out deny it.”

“Okay, fine, yeah. I’m scared of being alone, but who isn’t? Isn’t it only human nature to seek and maintain romantic and sexual relationships? I don’t want to be alone—without sex and companionship—for the rest of my life. Do you?”

“This is exactly what I’m telling you: I can be happy either way, and so can you. You don’t need to ‘be with someone’ to be happy. It just isn’t a requirement for happiness. I’ve spent many years in relationships and many years alone, and I am telling you that both have their benefits. They are simply just two different ways of living and it’s not black and white. I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, I’m just offering you another way and perspective out of a shitty situation. And your situation is shitty, at least from where I see it and what you’ve been telling me.” I finally add.

He sits there, in his chair, anger brewing in his head for a moment. Then, he stands up, still looking at the ground, red eyes and puckered lips. I don’t say anything as regret builds up in my mind. I know that what I had said wouldn’t turn out well, but I just couldn’t help myself. He stands there looking at the ground for a few moments while he clenches his fists and then walks away calmly. I watch him as he walks down the street and then disappears around the corner. I continue sipping my coffee, not knowing what else to do. After a few minutes of pondering, I stand up and walk home, back to my room alone. No one joins me except the stoic crickets hiding in their respective residences. Zeno would be ashamed.

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