On the drive into work, on the day of the windstorm, I see a plane take off backward from Lindbergh Field, which is what happens when weather patterns are not normal and pilots must do their work in reverse.
“Backwards javelin,” I think to myself.
I have these errant thoughts and word-associations that random my brain as caffeine fast-forwards the morning, setting the mind, unready, into motion.
I simultaneously see a gull, wings outstretched and frozen mid-air, kiting in the quickly building wind, determinedly facing opposite the jetliner. The jetliner is riding the wind; the gull is floating in it.
I have no words for the gull, no quick association, though the fact of a stilled and winged thing seems more available to poetry.
Since my eye surgeries a decade back, I see gulls in fantastic light. Especially when the clouds are low, and the dawn-or-dusk sun is trapped by their influence; then, the gulls glow fairly metallic. Reminds me of the titanium white I used to deploy on canvas, back when I used to paint. Titanium’s an almost falsely iridescent hue that bests even the whiteness of the canvas.
With my new eyes, since cleared of cataracts, gulls glow like the glinting underbellies of fuselages. Like they’re encased in light and halo. When gulls are flying machines suddenly stopped, when the winds pick up and they float, it’s like seeing them as miniature glorifications of themselves, hovering on the still.
Gulls have red spots on their under-bills—vermillion no. 11. It’s what their fledglings strike at to signal they want to feed. The red is also a strong suggestion to prospective mates that a more vermillion-sporting bird exudes greater genetic confidence.
Peg is Daedalus from her office chair. I’m across from her on the couch, turning a coffee mug in particular circles, not sure if I want the handle turned left or right.
She deploys the word ‘hypomania’ like a titanium-white diagnosis. ‘Bipolar.’
When I’m too hyper, if I feel too much a bright shining point—like the red of a gull’s beak—if there’s an excessive busyness I’m attempting to quell, I’ll sometimes drive home at lunch. There are the fifteen minutes I drive home in my work clothes, absorbing the quiet of my radio and the glitter of the oceanfront. Airplanes pass over the freeway, their fast and steep descent some strange comfort. The jetliners have landing gears already engaged as they pass over the sunroofs on the Five. I’m left with five minutes to collapse on the couch, to absorb the quiet of a still house. This is terra firma, this is my home, with all its made and unmade beds. What follows is the fifteen-minute drive back to work, the further exhale. It’s an exercise in calming down.
Birds have to land most the time. Not albatross—they can float for years without terra firma. Their wingspans are unbelievable, and can ride zephyrs for months. Shoot down an albatross, as Coleridge writes, and you have to wear its heavy carcass around your neck as punishment.
There was that time I levitated off a Librium-anchored bed, floated up through the elevator shaft, and toward the sun, smiling.
You don’t kill an albatross, just like you don’t kill a mockingbird.
Still—Daedalus warned Icarus, “Don’t fly too close to the sun,” and Icarus—the pretend-bird—he didn’t listen and his wax wings melted. He extinguished his bird-ness and fell into the ocean.
When the windstorm was over, planes took off on the regular and gulls flew as they should, and they most likely landed okay in some offscreen way. You never know.
But I lay with my wife in the grass, today, the sun at proper distance, with wings invisible, folded, and intact behind me, and—to look around—there was no sea.