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.
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.
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.