The birdcage never held a bird. It was something that was simply a symbol but we took it to mean our wings were open, that we, if we were so inclined, could leave the salt spill and half-empty cartons of milk behind in the dim light of the holidays as they passed. Rooms full of light, some felt absence and a shiver through the heat. Palms no different held up to the sun. To tell a story only in things and what they resonate as—making a simple nod toward this sustained perspective shift through a switch between persons. Second to first, like downshifting gears and the engine huffing and hurtling up in rotations. Hear it whine away down the slope, spot of sun in the mirrors. I can’t say that any of my siblings noticed the door open when I set the bars to creaking. The song I had dried in my throat was not an easy one, when I started out. But I knew it well—something brittle round the curves. Diffusing in all directions. Once the world was really laid open before me, could it easily be captured like a bird, injured, in a net? I wasn’t sure. So I took to whistling through the seasons, the desert hushed in its browns and burning. No news in whatever was found dead on the floor. A report made of the life it left, filled out in its form.
But the lines straighten out when we’re connected. And there’s a central argument to be made with how we’ll all become dust. Knowing so much. The things that we’re unable to capture in terms that are conditional. Bright-edged and sharp. What we’re habited by. One grate connects directly to its counterpoint. And something essential hides in the relevant plane, breaking its strings. But we were never not a series of questions. Each corner brittle with asking, limbs and the light that catches them going forward and back through time. Us asleep among the turns. How continuous the turning is. How the center cannon cannot hold its ignition. A loud thing, eventually, and then something about a widening gyre. Say what you want. Maybe there was a time when our bodies would go limp, entirely. Question: could you sew the wind right through our reflections as they receded? One frame leads to another. When I’d become a total burden, you’d whisk me away with the other pieces that matched my complaints. Distress marks carried with us stark against a background. Our stages could be described in so many ways. One hand stakes itself to another. Question: how would you describe the shape of your intentions?
My doughy body only does what it’s asked. Eyelashes on the seasick floor. I mean, from up here it looks like the patterns repeat but only intermittently. Close, open. See what’s out there beyond what seems like it might go on forever. Nothing, right. But that’s just a trick of perspective—the vanishing point. Nevermind. Ok, so, ok. I guess it really is simple. I mean, being alone. There is no one here to discuss it with. The streets line themselves up and down, uniformed, uninformed, full of the other implications that come with one’s body and whatever needs to get erased from the sidewalk. But whose job is that? Square after square—elongating. I don’t understand how anyone could. Wait. So still. But the air makes its moves and I know how to counter that. Just have to look up. Step 1. All the musculature that connects one’s head to the rest of the things a body feels. It’s not really that simple. I’ll take the coca-cola, the elevator going up. Something from a Clash song, but that’s just the city beating its wings. The supermarket check-out. Lost among the other creatures that thought they had to lift themselves. Oh, ok. This seat is a seeming. Look at the shadows—it’s all I can make out. Sorry. So you mean there’s nothing better. I guess if you put your words in that order. There’s a way to turn around on this thing, right?
It’s not that dark yet. I think the monster in the middle of my third-tier understanding of phenomenology has maybe shown its face here, spitting out its teeth below the earwig and the satellite ringing the tower. I can hear the ghosts of whales from what constitutes a sense of depth. The pattern replays like a lyric, or maybe like a day. Something that can be watched and turned in against itself—whether for warmth or to insure consistency. I don’t mean to say “I mean” so much, it’s just that what is meant can become unglued from anything near it. And the edges slop. I thought about the pinnacle, about the castle melting down to its sandstone and then what would come after this container. A belief in the idea of endurance, but maybe not the practice of enduring. Or duration. Maybe that’s it—to cede the shape before it lapses into something mistakable. Form casing form for something to steal. How sometimes the horizon and the water don’t discern themselves from each other and one thing bleeds away. Giving up on edges makes us capable of finding what? I lick the edge of whatever stills next to me like a child discovering its mouth.
And here I find that I’m alone, and set against myself. Or at least bowing into this sense of loneliness again. A sentient pursuit, to greet and collapse. Head a Mondrian shape blocked into its compartment feelings. I believe the strangest court of dead birds resides underwater, their judgements pass as noise along the strips of shore and further out into the water’s body. Its cage. No open, close, open, just this. I know something about reviewing the rites of things, their passing. How they go into and away from season. If you press the oar down once it will touch your face where you hold it out overtly across the edge of the vessel. And shining below there, the oar will move through the light’s play on the lines that make up your shape. Cut right through your being. Wood on shadow. Water on the way. How a colder color comes up from beneath the shaky version you inhabit as you’re propelled away from this reflection. Where you were gets stilled eventually as you pass from this space. Only to find another version of yourself growing choppy on the waves.
Another blank beginning set against what has already come to pass. The world as backdrop, as curtain to draw back, as the unknowable source. The world has how many of us already swallowed up in its curtain. I’m afraid that if I stare too long, I’ll probably get lost in the blank beyond what’s here. And I don’t know what questions I should ask, so I’ll spin instead. Dumb toy inside a box waiting for the latch to lift. Tinkling of the machine arms. Whatever crank, whatever lease. The sense of feeling around an interior. I mean all of our grids are going out towards each other. I just can’t be sure of where and when they’ll meet. Whatever version of the plant or planet gets stretched out against these blanks that unfold between really intense moments of what can be called joy and what can be called a coin. Each emotion seeded at its center. I mean the flipside. Again, this meaning—how it ambers over time. You need a pick axe to make any progress, or soft hands and the opposite of a clock.
In the center of this grown thing’s shadow I place my ideas and the cart that carries them around. If you question something enough you can begin to believe. The question I mean, at least where it leaves you. In another’s mouth, say, or on a road with all the signs done and dim. It charges the things it’s directed at. Rushes right toward them, sometimes past. And that charge carries its semblance of a cure through the spaces that exist between bars, pushing and wending through the watering holes and homes that can be cages, and darkening the desert that can be arrested by whatever person stands before it, hands out, begging. Camera, coin, water, ink—whatever sense can capture. One bush burning its talk up into the sky. Whatever form you take your own mouth away from—the words and what comes after—let this be fire and let it stamp you out.
Bill Jehle (pronounced “yaylee”) was born in El Centro, son of architect William Jehle and ceramicist/painter Marguerite. Jehle has studied art at CU Boulder, CalArts, and Cooper Union. Jehle currently lives in Topanga Canyon and divides his time between his studio there and his cabin in Southern Colorado. Jehle’s work can be seen in numerous public, private and corporate collections.
Tony Mancus is the author of a handful of chapbooks, including City Country, Bye Sea, and Diplomancy. In 2008, he co-founded Flying Guillotine Press with Sommer Browning – they made handbound books. Currently he serves as chapbook editor for Barrelhouse and for the past few years he’s helped curate the In Your Ear reading series in Washington D.C. with Meg Ronan and Mike Walsh. He lives with his wife Shannon and three yappy cats and works as an instructional designer.