Birds That Didn’t Learn to Fly

 

 

Vision in Which the Final Blackbird Disappears

 

Phillip B. Williams, American poet born Chicago, 1983

 

A poem about the death by a type of suicide of a young boy.  This happens all year long in certain populations in many North American cities.

 The causes of this behaviour are undoubtedly as complicated as the society in which these young people live.

  This behaviour may also be in the same neck of the pscyhological woods as the American game called ‘Chicken’ in which young people dare each other to feats which sometimes cost their lives.

 

A monstrosity in the alley.

A many-bodied movement grouped

for terror, their flights’ brief shadows

on the kitchen curtains, on the street’s

reliquaries of loose squares and hustle.

 

 

 

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The End of November:  the Birds that Didn’t Learn How to Fly, 2007; quilt, wire, fabric and enamel on canvas on wood.  Thornton Dial, 1928-2016.  Souls Grown Deep Foundation gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018

The Museum explains that the painting features hanging blackbirds.  The creatures are a signifier of Jim Crow, the label for state and local racial segregation laws and practices. The evocative subtitle is meant to suggest the lynching and terror visited on blacks in the South. 

Birds represent freedom in the artist’s  symbolic universe, and the inability to fly here suggests the early denial or absence of liberty. Come November, the birds are unable to migrate to warmer weather and thus are left to die.

  The artist was one of the most creative of the self-taught artists of the North American South in the last half century.

 

Some minds are groomed for defiance. The youngest

calls out his territory with muscular vowels

where street light spills peculiar, his hand

a chorus of heat and recoil. “Could have been

a doctor” say those who knew and did not

know him, though he never wanted to know

what gargles endlessly in a body — wet hives,

planets unspooled from their throbbing shapes.

 

 

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Detail of The End of November:  the Birds that Didn’t Learn How to Fly, 2007; quilt, wire, fabric and enamel on canvas on wood.  Thornton Dial, 1928-2016.  Souls Grown Deep Foundation gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018

 

There are many ways to look at this.

He got what he wished against. He got

wings on his shoes for a sacrifice. The postulate

that stars turn a blind eye to the cobalt corners

of rooms is incorrect. Light only helps or ruins sight.

Daylight does cruel things to a boy’s face.

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Birds That Didn’t Learn to Fly

  1. This blog is so wonderful, thank you Sarah. The breadth and depth of your comments and analysis, the attention to each work and the connections made, the eyes you open to those who read/view your commentaries…wonderful! I was fortunate to meet you at the Woodmere Museum Opening on September 22.

    1. Miki, Thank you very much for your appreciation. I know that you know how trying can be the creative life but how much those of us who do not have the skill and focus and talent rely on the work of creators. I hope to visit you soon.

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