5. Flightless

from the fantasy novel Open When You Are

         The boy sat up straight as the car pulled over to the side of the highway. “That’s funny,” he thought. “I was sure we still had a long way to go.” He stood up and leaned his head over the front seat. “Dad, what are we stopping for? Is something wrong with the car?” His father smiled.
          “It’s time to enjoy ourselves.” he said. “Last one out is a rotten egg!”
          The boy shrugged. This sure didn’t look like the beach. He watched the cars whizzing by and road-junk tumbling around in the wake of their tail wind. The air reeked of exhaust fumes. He got out of the car, and sighed. He had really thought that this time they were going to make it to the ocean.
          “Why so down?” smiled his mom. “We’ve got a great day ahead of us. I even packed your favorite — jelly and potato chip sandwiches.”
          The boy stood numb as his parents spread out a blanket on the median strip, kicking away a hubcap.
          “Every time! Every time this happens!” he thought angrily. “We start out for the beach, and end up on this crazy highway.” He started to cry. His parents, who had begun a game of badminton, put down their rackets and came over to the tearful boy.
          “Wanna play?” asked his dad. “I bet I’ll beat you 1-2-3.” He knew his son loved a challenge and that it could snap him out of almost any bad mood. But the boy refused.
          “I don’t wanna play, I don’t wanna eat. I just want to go to the beach.”
His parents gave each other ‘that look’ and shook their heads. “And where do you think you are?” asked his mom, tensely. “We just drove almost two hours to take you to this beautiful beach. Any other kid would be thrilled, and all you can do is mope and pout?” His parents seemed so sure. Maybe he really was just being a spoilsport, maybe he should…No, he thought. Not this time! He wasn’t going to fall for it. He wouldn’t go along.
          The boy pulled himself up as tall as he could. “But Mom, Dad,” he said, pointing, “Can’t you see that this isn’t a beach? A beach has water, and birds, and sand. This is just an old highway, not even a rest area…” His dad was turning redder and redder as the boy spoke.
           “Listen,” his dad said through clenched teeth. “That’s quite enough of this little game of yours. Wherever we take you, it’s the same old song. ‘I wanna go to the beach…I wanna go to the beach.’ Your mother and I took a whole day off in the middle of a busy week, to bring you to the best beach on the whole coast, and you just start up again right away! Look around. Look at all the people. Do you really think they would be sitting around on blankets, in bathing suits, if this wasn’t a beach?!”
          The boy couldn’t deny it. Since they’d parked their car, a bunch of other cars had also pulled up. Kids were running around in bathing suits. A dog was chasing a Frisbee. The boy smelled roasting hot-dogs amidst the exhaust fumes of the passing traffic. He looked back at his parents, whose eyes were almost pleading with him. One thing was clear — they sure thought they were at the beach, and so did all the others. The boy sighed, and once again, like every time, decided to keep quiet.
           “Okay Dad,” he said. “I see what you mean. Are there any sandwiches left?” The tension broke, and his parents seemed so relieved.
           The boy ate halfheartedly and even threw a football around for a while with the kid from the next blanket. But then, a little while later, as the boy walked over to the car to get his mom a magazine, he smelled something strange. He thought maybe it was some kind of fruit, or a lady’s perfume. It was a smell he knew, but from where?
          Then the boy closed his eyes, and swooned. The Ocean!! It had been so long, but now it was like he was right there! Everything felt so blue, and warm, and wavy, and clear. He opened his eyes, and there was an old woman standing in front of him. “Grandma?”
          She smiled, then cried, then smiled again. “Come, we’re going home.” Home? He wanted to go to the beach! The woman read his thoughts and laughed, “We are going to the ocean; we’re going home!” They started walking and the boy felt happier than he’d ever felt before. Then a hand grabbed his shoulder from behind and tugged him hard.
          “You know the rules! No running off by yourself!” His dad said, pointing to his mom who was shading herself under a traffic light. “Come, your mother and I are ready to leave, but if you behave in the car, we can come back next week.”
          “But Dad,” the boy squirmed out of his father’s grip and turned around. For sure Grandma would tell him, she’d explain everything, how they all really…but she disappeared.
                                                      —Ben Ackerman


during Porter Ranch Aliso Canyon Gas Leak Blowout
took flight two years ago   or   they died.

Precious singing Mockingbirds
never returned.
Magnificent symphonies stilled.
My heart broken.

Greeting each day,
facing East on high hillside
they perched on fence or
atop twigs of prickly pyracantha.

Hummingbirds nearby
sat quietly alert on tallest thin branch of my big mama fig tree.
Easy to view when winter’s winds tear away fig leaves.
On guard duty, turning their heads
Hummer's bodies glistened in the sun
as they listened to sweet songs from their friends.

Every early morning from sunrise with camera in hand
I captured their golden and awesome iridescent breasts
and recorded their song.

I miss them so; I look up and they are not there.
My beloved companions remain deep in my heart,
my Hummers and Mockingbirds.
                                                                     —Joy Krauthammer



1) Killing Ourselves in Our Sleep

I would like you to be awake.
Awake enough to see in truth the horror
and the consequences of our mistake.
But I fear that you are not.

I would like you to burn;
to burn with a passion to earn
redemption from the sins of your parents.
I would like you to reach out for the truth,
for the light of reality and to struggle
with the ardour of ennobled youth
for a new way, a new path,
free from the shadow of greed.

I would like you to be consumed with hunger;
hunger for a chance to breathe clean air,
or to fish in oceans teeming with life
and free from the poisonous flux of plastic residue;
or to see the resplendent and subtle beauty
of Nature in all its multitude of varied forms.
But I fear you do not hunger for these blessings.
I fear you have grown accustomed to the smell
and the ugliness of the garbage dump
you have made of this world;
and I fear that you have forgotten the beauty of beauty.

I would like you to be awoken,
for you to be dragged from your slumber with a scream,
by the magic of hearing my words softly spoken
in the midst of your deepest dream.
I would like my words to cast this magic like lightning
into the shadowed caverns of your sleeping soul
so that the ghastly truth of our existence
sings in your memory forever.

I would like you to be awake,
but I fear you are not,
and it makes me weep,
because I dreamt ---
that we’re killing ourselves in our sleep.

2) Learning to Care

The ancient graveyards we have learned to raid,
the rotted bodies we choose to exhume,
have brought us now to an uncertain doom,
where all our usages seem to degrade.

I'd like to say that we were unaware,
but in truth I fear we never learned to care.
Our lives were easy, we were fat and rich,
we pandered to our every slightest itch.

We rejected all we had not learned to measure
and took no thought for anything but pleasure.
We used our minds to darken our own eyes,
then raped the world and named ourselves as wise.

What does it take to make you use your eyes
and see the truth that all your greed denies,
there is no future --- in the abhorrency
of a dark, polluted, plastic-poisoned sea?

What does it take to make you understand
there is no pleasure in a poisoned land,
no sweetness in the scent of poisoned air?
What does it take to make you stop and care?

I'd like to say that you were unaware,
that You had not been told by wiser minds,
how quickly Nature's sacred tapestry unwinds,
but in truth I fear you never learned to care.

I am writing this letter now, writing it with care,
here where I live in the Mountains of Despair,
to you, this planet's most inspired child,
living, as you do, --- in the lands of Heaven Defiled.

3) Oceans of Grief

Not plastic again for tea Mama,
not plastic again the young bird cried.
Plastic that floats on the sea so far.
Last night I dreamed that my body died
so full of the gifts that you brought to me;
plastic junk from the plastic sea.

Oh I do like shrimp, and I dream of fish
for these are the heart of a sea bird's wish.
But all this plastic from your crops
it fills me up, but you surely know
that a diet of sea-washed bottle tops
won't help me live or make me grow.

With my plastic tea from the plastic sea
I fear for what's in store for me.
I cannot run and I cannot fly
like an albatross should in the clear blue sky.
Here in the nest where I chanced to hatch
I'll die of the plastic my parents catch.

Oh, not plastic again for lunch Mama,
that floats and floats on the sea so far.
Not plastic again the young bird cried,
just now I dreamed that my body died
and fell apart here on the strand
while my spirit flew to a distant land
                                                                    —Gordon Ramel


unrolls its blueprints
on the wide table of the human heart,

counts the rooms that
let in dawn’s light,

builds a house
to stand up to storms,

adds a roof –
where birds learn

to fly.
                      — Cynthia Weber Nankee