Reading Cosmopolis on the Porch
He stood a while longer, watching a single gull lift and ripple in a furl of air, admiring the bird, thinking into it, trying to know the bird, feeling the sturdy earnest beat of its scavenger's ravenous heart.
Don Delillo, from Cosmopolis
...for the second time, after hearing that Mister Cronenberg had recently filmed Delillo’s fine book. Who the hell films Delillo? Why not do Pynchon or Foster Wallace? Take on a darker McCarthy than just his end of the world book? It is a risk, perhaps a form of madness. I may have it myself. Such a film cannot make money. But I am with him anyway. Though the chances of success are minimal, and the only success an entirely different work of art than what Delillo has spun in the head, I am still with him. A movie to watch in a theatre audience of one. Some time. Today I want to be outside.
Over the top of the book, Indigo Buntings and Summer Tanagers are the constant back register of the yard now. I would love to see the sonic ambient audiogram scratched on green paper. Surely it is also beautiful, like the movie of a lovely book. There is no minute of the day now without tanager-speak and titmouse talk and the possessiveness of buntings. Inside this, I read and stop, lower the book, read and stop. Eyeglasses up and eyeglasses down, the dance of aging. Or, at least, one of many. The Indigos call more distantly, over in the meadow. And there also are some crows making noises that are totally new, perhaps from new crows: a sound like a bee caught under glass, the sound of a muffled voice, nasally ordering food or commanding troops. I cannot see these dark and eloquent birds.
Hummer duties call when I see a bird going from one glass receptacle to the next. And then another bird that backs away repeatedly from the pot feeder. I find the pot’s glass rim and ruby flower is running with ants. It is a deep red glass orb with a flower insert popped up on the end of a long black stem. I stare at it after blowing and shaking the ants away. I have no way to put an ant guard directly on the stem. I could put something noxious on the stem to deter the ants, WD-40 or ant killer but that seems too labor intensive. I risk touching toxins to hummer glass. I stare at the whole apparatus for a bit and then eureka to myself. I go inside and find one of my large ant traps and hang the whole potted plant from it. Unless the ants live in the pot soil itself, it could work. I will watch for further ant activity.
I fill up the other hanging blue glass feeder but everyone seems to be going to the red pot. They seem to empty its single chamber every day. Several different females approach by coming in low and perching in a bush first. The males are still after them. And I see the male U-U-U with his associated wing buzz and excited (determined, obsessive) chatter several times in the yard. When he is too close to her or in a confined space he just cuts in and out pointing at the female. He flares those ruby feathers at the lower sides of his throat like a tiny horny dragon. For the girls it is all about avoidance. I watch one female make a jetfighter maneuver: when the male is under one of the standing pots she loops behind and under it and makes a large fast arc overhead before he sees her. I watch her dive inside the huge Oak-leaved Hydrangea nearby and hide. He zings away west. I make a small applause. But she still did not come to feed.
I keep the camera on the porch, standing beside me on its tripod. And the new kitten is allowed to run beneath my feet. He has not learned or dared to drop off the concrete to the real world. The hummers see him occasionally but they are not threatened. The cat notices a few butterflies. But I have found there are insect-focused cats and non-insect enthusiasts. He likes leaves and folded carpets. He likes dog noses. Eventually he just falls over and sleeps in the chair next to me. Popping open his eyes anytime I take the camera out into the yard. I get up and go whenever the light strikes something that I want to see more closely. A flower becomes spotlighted. The garden decoratives glint. Beneath the Peonies, a stone angel prays.
I make a run over to the mailbox to put out the trash bin. With recycling we seem to have minimal trash, but still, the can must go out each Tuesday. I find a male Fence Lizard on the top edge of the green bin after I roll it over to its place. He seems stunned and I pick him up easily. I don’t know if it is just too cool for him or if the fifty foot journey has disoriented his whole world. I put him on the ground and he runs deftly under the can. I warn him out loud that there is a great monster, beyond his worst dreams, coming soon to lift away his world. I don’t see him run out. I try to picture the size of the disruption equal to lizard/Garbage truck or me and my own monster beast in the same ratio. The one that can lift my whole house off of me with squealing and engine noise. These automated garbage grabbers make some ungodly noises. They always set off the dogs. But I leave the lizard to his lesson. If I carried him back to my lawn he would have a tough time finding a spot among all the Fence territories that are already there. Every tree I have has battling Fencies. Pregnant females dash from my car and my kitten. This guy would be lonely in this new monsterless world. And I would be responsible.
Back in the chair, I read more of Delillo’s man in the car, making his way across the city, living outside nature completely. Living inside computer screens and bodyguards, street noise and helipads. Here with me the breeze is wafting the trees in complicated patterns. I see the Mississippi Kite steal in from the north and perch in the sweetgum top. He is quiet. He sometimes makes the serial screams that always make me look. At the bottom of the hill this week, each time I have driven by, a large group of kites have gathered above the cow pasture and the pond. There are forty of them at times, stitching wild patterns in the sky. It is a bit early for high flying dragon swarms so I could not discern their true purpose. Unless this is some kind of mating selection ritual I am unaware of: flight school for the new returnees, some Top Gun type of bonding. Kites picking mates from their looping capabilities, from the sheering noise their wings make going by. It sounds good. They were certainly not feeding.
The sun strikes through into new positions in the front yard and I go out into the flowers again. The metal heron that sits in the far bed, I find is draped in spider web. It is like a shawl shone through with light, the wedding drape for this frozen metal bird. His colors have held in over a year of rain. He wears a necklace of fallen oak stamens. I have seen butterflies perch on his head, though they prefer the high butterfly bush blooms which finally and suddenly purpled out this week. It is early in the day for the butterflies yet. Through the camera lens the flowers enlarge and dazzle. I can stare straight into a bloom heart. It is a messier and deeper world where the ants walk, where the bees crash. I can imagine coming in for a landing and scourging myself with pollen. I sneeze at the thought. And this makes me laugh.
Before the heat comes up I take the bike out around my property loop and then off onto the mountain for a thirty minute ride. It is a new bike I have given myself for the current birthday. (Day 19,724.) This Japanese machine has already been a great pleasure. The nicest bike I have ever owned. One can stand and glide in easy zigs and zags past the dangling oak limbs. The speed down a long hill is seductive. (Please, wear your helmet.) And out and about, I get to see and hear the neighbor’s birds really. Near the orchard the Lark Sparrows flutter up. They never come to my house. I stop to see if they will sing. But everywhere in every direction are the suburban Mockingbirds making overriding noise. One seems stuck on Scissortail sounds. I stop and think at one point that I must have a Scissortail up in the pines (a first) but it is just a Mocker, scissoring at me, like this will teach me a lesson—eavesdropping on other peoples birds. Really. I rescue a Tarantula abandoning the orchard, crossing the road. Or rather I stand close by, looking nonchalant while she makes it to her chosen ditch. Barn Swallows loop low when I am gaining speed, coursing a foot over the pavement in front of me, for a few seconds we are going the same speed, these blue backed rockets and I. Meadowlarks make their lawn sprinkler noise. Kingbirds look kingly on their signposts, lording over the interstices of Mockingbird territories. I feel like I have moved into another world out in the open, away from my woods. And then I head back.
On my porch again, slightly breathless, I think of the loop of distance I have made out and around and back. It seemed so significant. But Delillo reminds me of the complications involved in its mapping. You know them. I know them. We choose to ignore them since we do not work for NASA and, well, the continuous thought of such things can make you dizzy. Our actual movements are dazzling. If we were to make a path of light, a zigging map of my motion in three dimensions on this thirty minute ride, it would be long and wild. The bike trip would barely make a tiny flaw in the recorded light path. In my thirty minutes I moved 500 miles around the center of the earth as we spin toward sunset. And I moved 35 thousand miles through space headed towards summer in our sun centered ellipse. My slight 4 or 5 mile excursion is not even visible as a slope or a bump upon that great streak of motion. As always, I am humbled to minisculity (if that were a word). Like a lizard under a garbage can on the back of a rocket speed truck. (And for you deeper daredevils, I am not going to mention the speed of the sun in our solar system moving upward and away inside the Milky Way. Another 20 thousand miles in one direction and 7500 in another.)
The House Finches announce their arrivals in the yard. They have trouble being quiet, coming in pairs for the black sunflower seed. They shine purple in the sun. A Painted Bunting comes to sing atop one of the hickory spires. He occasionally wanders over from the mailbox to make sure no other errant Painteds have encroached in this direction. I am pretty sure there has been only one Painted pair here for years. His vigilance is always and ever, his seriousness is intensified by the season. He shakes with his singing and drops his tail. Maybe he chases Indigos too? I will have to watch.
And in the bare tree trunks toward the spider-draped heron, I see a motion that is not common. It is a dragonfly. But it swings up and slaps itself upright against an oak trunk. Like an elongate refrigerator magnet for treebark. A Petaltail came late yesterday to the yard and this morning I see she is back. And notably, it is the first female Petaltail I have ever seen. It loops across the front sidewalk and pops up against the dead hickory spire that is slowly collapsing in my yard. She is making little forays out at flying things. I recall the first Petaltail I ever saw, while dropping my daughter off at Audubon camp many years ago. That dragon was working from tree to tree there at the camp grounds. It left the trees in some mad sudden urge and made a wild try for the back of my wife’s hair. It has forever remained a favorite animal, stirring my wife into a sort of dancing flail. She leaned and back-stepped wanting to be un-perched and de-dragoned. We were all younger and more limber then.
I take the real camera over to this shedragon. She is an ancient dragon model. Her kind making new dragons before man cooked his meat and strapped timepieces to his arms. I want to watch her at close range. Supposedly the males have only short-flighted lives and spend all their time spiraling up treetrunks looking for females. This female just seems to be hunting. Making eggs from mothscale and gnatgut I suppose. Her left forewing is misshapen, malformed, but no one told her. She misses a small moth and afterward comes back to her exact spot on the dead trunk. And then, after a short pause, she comes off again and goes up and up at what looks like a Goatweed butterfly to me (and possibly to her). It falls past her and she turns and streaks straight down into it, crashing into the sidewalk, recovering and coming over to perch on a Virginia Creeper vine. She shakes such a crash off like it is ordinary mishap. I would think her dragon brain is reeling like a bad boxers. On the sidewalk, I see it was just a red leaf, fluttering down, that she mistook (along with me) for a butterfly. I think I would have gone after it as well, dying in the crash no doubt, breaking my antenna and my eyecases with my hunger and my dive. It was so animate in its twirling downwardness, this leaf. Where in the hell did a bright red leaf come from? Is what I think. But now I believe a few leftover leaflets of last fall’s Creeper are still up there high on the tree. Waiting just there for me and her dragoness to be in the right juxtaposition. And something dislodged it just at the moment I needed it to. Probably just the continued breeze. But maybe it was one of those four or five motions we are making together through the universe that did it? Moving all of us: the dragonfly and I and the red, red leaf. Hmm. The sky overhead afterward is really blue is all I know, when I stare up into it, imagining again the great jig I am doing just standing still. I see my sweetgums rattle and shift above us like they know. Like they always know.
I go back to my book. Lost again in my normal state of, well, oblivion. Stilled in my own false relativity. But bathed again in birdsong, as I rip through space like a fallen leaf that knows not where it is bound.