Bird of Passage
In the land of birds, the quietest wings belong to the visitors. Some are nocturnal guardians and only screech at the passing of the living. My visitors flew at the window, soft winged and ominous. would stay sleepless, waiting for them.
Before the rupture, flew the guardians of my father, aerodynamic and balanced, their flutterings would encourage my curiosity, the membrane of curtain and window pane gave way as anxiety increased. On occasion he would appear at the door and ask if I had seen or heard. As others slept, we welcomed.
A rush of twilight is how it begins, slow at first, a cajoling young light. To a young body tension is frightening, light can turn sharp and heaviness is flung to the skin, it is arriving. I am never prepared, a host in transformation and panic.
The memories of my childhood were insignificant before the visitation of a bird of my own.
Recollections of an adult cannot subdue the terror of a child, so a lifelong companion etched a pathway that first bore its mark on my body, then the senses and painfully awakened my imagination.
The rush of twilight, an accumulation of hearing, seeing and feeling, incomprehensible screeching, terror moving towards excess. Volume hones the edge of light, sound is the medium to which it is unleashed. Inside the skull is the base of my child fear, transformed into piercing shards of light and pain. It is unbearable.
My passage is direct, no variation, no destination. At the precipice between night and day,
I am trapped in a great transgression. An unmitigated body, alone, compiled the arrival, like growing pains, my adolescent self stood up inside the child and rapidly aged. I feared I would age close to death and never recover.
The sight of a pained screaming child is what I imagined my parents endured time and again. I recall images of them hovering over me, concerned, helpless, their presence seemed monstrous. My mothers sadness was overwhelming, I screamed for the next three years and felt abandoned.
Self absorption and anger have a leveller, which discovered at the age of ten. The screeching bird had finally come to visit and I entered the place of grieving adults, retreating childhood and independence. My Grandfathers guardian bird had made its last call, sang his passing.
That morning I awoke to the news, the death of my in grandfather. It was in disbelief that I buried my grief, kept a conference with it and hid in my pillow.
Hearing the rush of dawn had awakened a listening post, the fear of old stories spurned on by his early departure. I recall muted conversations, an inventory of superstitions.
It was in this pitched murmur, we travelled north.
The landscape is blurred, we stop to pick greenery how for our garlands, how strange to see this rough assemblage turn poetic, car loads of leafed mourners. Before this, my transformations had always been experienced alone, for the first time I changed as others did.
The funeral is the greatest institution in the land of birds. On the marae, vigil is a state of readiness, bird orators flock, the calls of the flightless announce. Earth bound keening is a bird womans folding wing, they shatter bereavement into pieces of hope and belief.
Cacophony at the rush of dawn is released after death. Lamentation birdsong, a naked residue for the remains of the living. For mourners, garlands are a gift from the forest, leaves for the featherless to heal the grief membrane, Te Arai, a spirit passage.
With leaves springing ahead of my sight, perceive an opening, a portal. Transmission, not punishment or seizure. A familiar frequency I recognise from years of child fear. My guardian bird is hovering, singing an intonation of young grief. I am ageing.
Mother hands lead me to our fallen tree, guided by an archaic voice. I need to see him. It is a long walk from the gateway to the house, we enter as the bird women sing. They look tired, swollen, red eyes and wet faced. This is a strange new world, visual, aural and changing.
I had never seen so many distressed adults, we approach him and I follow what the others do. I can see his coffin.
In the commotion, I hear a murmur, an utterance, a shallow refrain. Repetition of a resonate embrace to greet our condolences. I lift the veil of my child self and place it at his feet. My first adolescent steps are to the right side of his coffin. It is closed. I feel broken and can not remember his face.
Ceremonial language clothe the dead in poetic landscapes. Bird orators call on the fallen to rise and walk once more, ephemeral, they morph from tree, mountain and ocean to the cadence of recitation. Ghostly feet, with toes that grasped the earth follow an ascendent melody, skyward toward a cosmological disappearance.
Grief transformed into a star, lost in the vast night sky.
Kua hinga koe, kua wheturangitia, kua ngaro ki te po.
Mother, you sleep more than ever. Although of little appetite you consumed my pain and shed light on my life. From your shelter, I had comfort in the shadows, I am fearless now and forever looking forward. In those moments of my fear and child confusion I did not see you, absorbing, talking with the night to protect me.
Sing of her love. The firstborn, transformed violation, spirit guardian. Hine Nui Te Pō.
Incantations fly across a lamentation sky. Atamira, an ancient stage. Theatre of the night goddess. From obsidian eyes flare the light of decomposition. Spirit fleeing a terminal cycle, body loved by black fire and endless dark. A burial platform, perched high like an owI calling unrecognisable names.
Bird of passage, a lifetime you have pulled me from my body. Brought me here to contemplate silence and dark kindness. Burial companion, surround me with the songs of the living and let me glimpse for a brief moment, the afterlife.
In a physical place captured between the return and my desire to stay, I wait at Te Arai. From the promontory a great vista touches the west. A deep green and black abyss, ocean battle field of jade and obsidian, quiet winds propelled by the setting sun. In spiritual repose and hiatus, I witness their debate.
The talisman I choose to leave behind, when my time arrives, will be a blade of black volcanic glass.