Image: Walk Carmarthenshire
A Puffin - Port O'Brien
When the rabbits come out at dusk -- small tough stringy city beasts -- I want to name them. Watching from the slanting sidewalk of my slowly sinking street (only a few blocks from the Chicago river, the terra firma isn't, unfortunately), I want to anthropomorphize those brown dots on postage stamp lawns. Name that efficient little guy Hazel and the speedy one Dandelion, spot some Blackberry qualities in the creature that seems to pause reflectively. Then there are the Canadian geese summering along the banks of the Lincoln Park Boat Club's lagoon. Do siblings, I wonder, squabble over sleeping arrangements as the flocks set up camp? Does the web-footed matriarch refuse on the third day to procure a meal, squawking Get it yourself! This is my vacation too!
A few weeks ago I found an empty nest in one of my hanging baskets of geraniums -- a sparrow's nest, I think. It was built and abandoned before I even noticed how the stems of the plant were bent to all sides and thought to get up on a stepstool and investigate. A nest neat and tight and perfectly round, of packed mud and twigs and also thin strands of plastic and other human toss-offs, reminding me of how our worlds overlap. How we inhabit theirs and they try to adapt to ours. And I felt a sense of mourning for these thwarted birds (that I had driven off by unknowingly watering their nest). Did they depart heartbroken like an evicted family, or rueful like a couple who'd run out of money before their dream house was fully built? I'm prone to bad dreams, and one of my most frequently recurring nightmares is finding myself on the street, homeless. And that may be why at first I didn't even want to touch this foreign and familiar -- this uncanny -- object. And why I felt ashamed to pick it from its bed of broken flowers.
So this impulse of Port O'Brien's Van Pierszalowski, to project his own fears on a nested puffin, is something I can totally understand. Flipping that Jamaican standard "Yellow Bird" on its head, the song gives us a bird bound by invisible ropes of obligation and a man who can grow wings and fly away. But as if unsure of his asserted freedom, Pierszalowski at first sings in his rusted voice a little inhibited, until the song shakes gloriously free of its claustrophobia after 2:30 and becomes sharp and fuzzed, lucid and delirious. A thing of artless, grubby instinct.
From the delightfully rough and ramshackle The Wind and the Swell (Amazon, eMusic). Myspace
I wrote (scroll down) about Port O'Brien's song "Five and Dime" earlier this year.
It looks like my favorite AWOL-too-long mp3 blogger of No Frontin' is possibly back or has gone over to This Recording. (Danish honey, I'm kinda depressed you're not keeping me updated!) But either way, it's very good to have him back in the blahblahsphere.