The birdcage on my mantle will never hold a bird. It is purely decorative, a pretty little jail made of walnut, poisonous to exotics. A lark of space, a palace of air, a Taj Mahal to no one’s love. Some nights, it holds a candle, which lights the emptiness, reminding that emptiness itself is a feast. The wind too, invisible and full, ruffles the feathery tips of the garden’s most luminous resident, the asparagus fern. Its green glows like the promise of the first garden, an unnamed patch of cultivated green before Eden, where no one was cast out, where desire and knowledge only helped the garden grow. Of the newly cultivated, only a few have seen the growing plot as they fly over by helicopter, monitoring its size. Astronauts catch their breath when they spot the blue planet, then see the great garbage patch in its nauseous swirl. But most of us picnic with our plastic forks and shrug. The sneaker company, at least, announces it’s giving up virgin plastic. It wants to clear its corporate conscience if the predictions hold true: that the world’s oceans will hold more plastic than fish, in terms of weight, by 2050. The garden and the casting out, it’s all connected, but we never learn. On tonight’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance, the trans contestant goes cis for the ballroom round, and the judges croon about what a nice looking man he is. Thanks, she says, controlling her face, because she wants to make it to the next round. We all want to make it to the next round, and the next, which is why it’s so disappointing that the us and the exiled are still our archetypes. Possibility without poison, the gate held open, and emptiness something we still have the luxury to aestheticize. That is, if we keep at bay earth’s boil, which would collapse the idea of emptiness into emptiness itself, and take with it the walnut tree, and the cage it made, and the commonplace bird that would have sung at the window had it been morning.
Siobhán Scarry is the author of the poetry collection Pilgrimly (Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions, 2014). Her creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, jubilat, Malahat Review, Mid-American Review, and New Letters, among others. She publishes scholarly work on 20th-21st century poetries as well, the most recent of which appears in Southern Humanities Review. Currently an associate professor at Bethel College in Kansas, Scarry teaches literature and creative writing, runs a visiting writers series, and serves as faculty mentor to the undergraduate literary magazine YAWP!
Header photo by Claudio Testa, courtesy Shutterstock.