Birds of Passage
In the land of birds, the quietest wings belong to the visitors, the manuhiri. Some are nocturnal guardians and only screech at the passings of the living. My visitors flew at the window, soft winged and ominous. I would stay sleepless, waiting for them.
Before the breach, flew the gaurdians 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. Yes, as others slept, we welcomed.
The visitation of his birds was my inheritence, ours, a shared legacy heralding the imminent arrival of mine, a bird assigned and reluctant.
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 unto the skin, it is arriving. I am never prepared, a host in transformation and panic. Can you grow another body within the one occuppied? Inhabitation is coalescence, mine is a situs of invasion.
The memories of my childhood were insignifigant until the visitation, a bird of my own, at seven years of age. 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 is an enunciation, an accumulation of hearing, seeing and feeling. An incomprehensible screeching, terror moving towards excess. Volume hones the edge of light, sound is the medium to which its kaleidoscopic arsenal is unleashed. Inside the skull is the base of my child fear, transformed into peircing shards of light and pain. It is unbearable.
The unmitigated body, alone, compiled the arrival, like growing pains, my adolescent self stood up inside the child and rapidly aged. I feared that I would age close to death and never recover.
The sight of a pained screaming child is what I imagined my mother and father 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 absorbtion and anger have a leveler, which I discovered when I was ten. The screeching bird had finally come to visit and I entered the place of greiving 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 grandfather. He was fifty two years, my father was his first born and I, his. 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 and feelings of our history, a family sickness, spurned on by his early departure. I recall muted conversations, feigned signals, an inventory of superstitions. It was in this pitched murmur, that we travelled north.
The landscape is blurred, we stop to pick greenery for our garlands, how strange to see this rough assemblege turn poetic, car loads of leaved mourners. Before this, my transformations had always been experienced alone, for the first time I changed as others did.
The tangihanga is the greatset institution in the land of birds. Vigil is a state of readiness on the marae, bird orators flock, the calls of the flightless announce.
Earth bound keening is a bird womens folding wing, they shatter bereavement into pieces of hope and belief. This cacophony, birdsong at the rush of dawn is unleashed at death, what remains is for the living, a naked residue.
Tupapaku. Deceased body.
Is he still here?
Can he see me cry?
I am not sure.
It is a long walk from the outside into the house, I can make out his coffin. The house is filled with people, some I know, but most are old and strangers. I am holding my mothers hand, there is a strange air about, I feel comfortable and sad. I have never seen so many grownups crying and distressed. This is a new world, visual and aural, everything keeps changing. I really want to see him. We enter the house and all the women sing and cry at the same time. They look tired, swollen, red eyed and their faces are wet. I feel sorry for them. We approach and I follow what the others are doing. Leaves spring in front of my eyes, one at a time they remove their garlands and place them at his feet. It is my turn. It has to be done correctly, I am afraid that he will be disappointed in me. Place it at his feet and move to the right side of the coffin. His coffin is closed, I feel broken and can’t remember his face.
Birds of passage, manuhiri a tuarangi, are said to be from of Hawaiki, vistors from a great distance, our homeland……………..................…