The Windhover #4

Do you find the image of a dead bird drinking from a half-crushed can of Stella amusing?

Not long dead, the flies still trying to work out why it isn’t flapping them off even as they scurry over the unclouded, gelatinous surface of its eye, this bird is challenging you to laugh: “Go on, I dare you.”

Someone{{1}} finds this funny, as this is how they’ve positioned the pigeon, proximal to the pavement, near Morrison’s supermarket on a freshly mown patch of grass.

[[1]] My sense is that this “someone” is probably the mower of Morrison’s lawn. And for some associative reason, a poem I’d only once half-read by Andrew Marvell about such a Mower pops into my head. In Marvell’s poem, the unrequited Damon (Heark how the Mower Damon Sung,/With love of Juliana stung!) tragi-comically puts himself out of action whilst absent-mindedly moping over Juliana’s lack of interest in him and his “harmless Snake I bring…disarmed of its teeth and sting” (!). This Morrison’s Damon, I surmise has been similarly jilted by a “bird”, and so produces this spectacle for us, which is almost entirely sublimated fury and revenge. No joke. Nasty.[[1]]

As I photograph the irreverent tableau, my neighbours walk by wondering whether I have set up the scene for a photo opportunity. The fact that I am stopping to shoot the profaned pigeon in its obviously compromised state, at some level confirms their suspicions.

One voice in my head says: “Well it doesn’t really matter what they do with your body when you’re dead. You’re no longer around to feel the mortification of the body to self{{2}}.” Another voice knows this not to be true.

[[2]] And no doubt the them-animals-us-humans brigade would argue at this point that an animal doesn’t feel the finer gradations of affective consciousness, so this argument, one way or the other is moot. But clearly these people have never watched a dog defecating. It feels the intimacy of its bodily assignment, winces if a child laughs at it during the act.[[2]]

This other voice might be that of a pigeon fancier like Steven von Breemen, who is also to some extent using the pigeon instrumentally for his breeding and racing. And yet, listen to the deep engagement and love (I have no other word for it) when he writes about these birds:

Personality has to radiate from the head. A pigeon has to radiate. Radiate, which is a mixture of intelligence, willpower, experience of life and more… A breeding pigeon has to have that for me. If she’s clearly not sprinkled with the mysterious elements of ‘something’ then I won’t use such a pigeon for breeding. The experience over the years has taught me that stupid pigeons breed stupid pigeons much easier than clever pigeons produce clever pigeons. Or in other words two donkeys have never produced a racehorse. And once you have introduced a stupid pigeon then it costs years and years to remove that stupidity from your pigeon stock. I am always looking for pigeons with descriptive faces. Faces which give me enough information over the oh so important characteristics for  breeding further. How can you learn this so that you can check if your personal taste regarding a pigeon eye is right? By gaining experience at every possible opportunity. It is a matter of wanting to see, to make yourself see!

I want the equivalent ‘Human Fancier’, a von Breemen or Hopkins (My heart in hiding/Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing) tending to my own remains and those of my loved ones. Not a Mower, thank you very much.

And yet, having visited the mortuary of an Independent Funeral Director in Kentish Town a few years back (no names, but google away) as part of training for bereavement counsellors, the cheeky-chappie gallows humour of the “lads” who shift the bodies about made me realise that we’re all prey, once dead, to Da(e)mons and cans of Stella Artois hanging from our beaks.

My advice is Do It Yourself (DIY) Do Death Yourself, and have a Woodlands Burial. Also, it’s probably good to have a think about where and in what state your body will be “hanging around” between demise and consignment to earth or crematorium.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter what they do with your body when you’re dead?

4 thoughts on “The Windhover #4

  • I often tell my family, to their chagrin, that if I go first they are to do whatever they want with me. Fire, road trip, a shallow ditch, whatever they want. I will, after all, be dead, and their wishes will matter more than mine at that point.

    • Absolutely, tis all done for the living, Tami. But it is nice to know for us living (I think) that we’re also honouring the wishes of the dead. I had a really moving, and very essential talk with my mother the other day about her burial arrangements, and we were able to come to some sort of compromise on what she’d like (as a living person, envisaging herself dead), but also what I’d like, as a person who might outlive her, but would want to have a way of honouring her memory.

      I’d rather go and “see” and “talk to” my parents in a field, under an oak tree near Beaconsfield, than in a gloomy cemetery, and so Ma (who was initially thinking “trad”) and Pa (who has always wanted “crem”) are coming around to the idea of their bodies and ashes being somewhere that might be meaningful for myself and my brother to go and visit and pay our respects.

      We hardly ever talk about death do we, but when we do (our own death, and those whom we love) it “clears” more space in the heart for life, I find.

  • Yes, what a great suggestion Jenn. Will download borrow this from the library and watch tonight. Am also reading A.J Baker’s The Peregrine at the moment, which I think Cathy Galvin might be up for doing as a future RMSYL. So lots of lovely adjuncts to the poem.

  • Beautiful drawings, Rosie. Although we don’t always die beautifully, so in some ways, I’m grateful to the pigeon-desecrater for reminding me of that.

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