This collaboration began with a film clip: a trailer for the forthcoming film Albatross (now available to the public in its finished form), written and directed by artist Chris Jordan. It is one of those works of art that combines so much grief with so much beauty that looking away from it feels impossible. In this case, the story is about a remote island in the Pacific, the beautiful Laysan albatross, and the horrifying effects of the plastic that makes its way to the ocean and, carried by currents, gathers in a mind-bogglingly vast garbage patch. After watching the trailer, my friend Sara Parrilli and I each felt a deep need to respond. But how?
As artists—a poet and a painter—we decided to start a conversation with art. I would write a poem and send it to her; she would paint something and send it back to me. Neither of us had ever seen an albatross in person, but for weeks during our correspondence, our minds and hearts were consumed by these birds. In this way, we began to process the effect another work of art (the film) had had on us. In turn, we have shared this project in various ways with others, but this is the first time it has been published. We hope that our words and images reflect both the grief and the wonder we felt as we created them. As Sara has written, “In order to live our lives in a conscientious way while facing some of the dark realities of our time, we have to carry a bit of that weight with us throughout everyday life. But through art, we have the power to balance out the darkness through the presence of light.” May it be so.
— Hannah Fries
Albatross, 2,000 Miles from Shore
The imagination is an animal, anima, ten-foot wingspan and certain beak—
it goes where it goes on air and doesn’t
count days and nights are liquid like the sea.
• • •
Albatross, pelagic, passing through, ghost-
like—no, it’s the world’s a ghost: fog, spray, lift
of the gale’s invisible hand, and you,
insistent form, unbound, the lost mind’s gift.
Albatross at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Because squid and bottle caps and bags
Because what is not needed passes through
Because salt our companion
Because the egg cracks open the chick cries out a thousand miles away
Because our ancestors
Because the wind that brings us
Because when has anything not been food to someone
Because the sea is our body is the world inside us
Because how will we recognize the end
One Chinese brother could drink the ocean
and hold it in, goes the tale, but only
just so long. Colored plastic churns
in the Pacific gyre, storm-gathered, broken.
And the albatross, too, drinks waves,
feeds bright bits to her chick
on the bottle-strewn shore. The chick’s body
is a mandala, symmetrically knit.
Soft down, wind-stripped, eyes eaten,
skin, weathered gone. Bones, brittle,
crack, and all gives back, gives way,
but this: plastic signature
in the gut’s place—the mandala’s
inverse, splayed—the undoing that persists.
The Albatross Mates for Life after Four Years at Sea
Yes, I have brought myself home—
see me dip my head.
How far is too far? Every moment the endless
and scooping out
their troughs with—look!—
these wings I spread before you.
It’s suddenly a dream: starlit
sky and whitecaps spitting silver
squid like slick offerings
to only me.
I hide my face beneath a wing.
There is no loneliness but stagnancy,
doldrum floating days
when stillness stifles.
Give me the hurricane.
Let me feel the click-clack
of your chittering beak—
the sound of you,
touch of you—more
See the smooth expanse of my throat!
I will trouble the sky
for wind to loft you.
Pierce the firmament, my love.
Let a billion throbbing stars rain through.
Like the horizon
over the sea,
the shell curves
around you. Light
from the other side.
sound of singing—
held to the ear.
The shell is
smooth and thin.
Can you stretch? Can you
Sara Parrilli works as an artist and arts teacher at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Ghent, New York. She recently published her first illustrative work, Through the Rainbow, written by Lou Harvey-Zahra and published by Floris Books. She is currently illustrating a second book.
All artwork by Sara Parrilli. Photo of Hannah Fries by Susan Quinn. Photo of Sara Parrilli by Maureen Cotton.