Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Poem: "Dear Mister Bird"

Dear Mister Bird

I am an assistant intern here at XXXXXX Poetry Magazine
I would like to thank you for your many submissions over the last year or so
and while none of your poems have been quite right for our magazine
our editorial staff has enjoyed reading and discussing your work

We have often wondered why so are so preoccupied with
the subject of being a bird
whether this is an area of great interest to you
or if you actually are a bird as you claim
but we have speculated that your work might be strengthened
if you would try investigating other subject matter

Have you ever considered writing from other points of view?

Please feel welcome to submit your work in the future

Best of luck

XXXX XXXXX,
Monterey, California.

Have I ever considered writing from other points of view?

I don't know, Fred. I guess I haven't.
When you are continually reminded about your point of view,
or as importantly, when you are reminded
of the point of view others have of you,
it's hard to focus on investigating other subject matters.

Yesterday I went into a donut shop to get coffee and a roll,
and the handsome fellow behind the counter decided he should
yell at the top of his lungs and mention
that I shouldn't shit on the floor inside his business.

Little reminders like that are very effective
to keep you writing on one specific topic
like being a bird

whether it is an area of great interest to me

or if I actually am a bird
as I claim.

(1975)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Poem: I Just Have That Kind of Face

This was in a bar in a pointless place, like Pocatello, Idaho.
I'd been in town a few weeks.
As I was drifting through I answered an ad
and got a job washing windows on the businesses downtown.
I was paid half of minimum wage, but I had job security.
It was the dustiest fucking town the Earth ever shit out.

I went to the same bar every night and drank until closing time.
It was a dirty, ugly place,
but the beer was cheap and popcorn was free,
and the other working class jerks got used to me being there.

After I'd been coming there every night for about a week,
with my feathers a mess from dirty, soapy water,
and me just wanting to kill the night
with beer and noise and juke box music
and whatever stupid shit was on the TV,
a guy decided I was the guy he would tell his story to.

He slid on over to the empty stool next to me,
and seeing that my beer was almost empty,
he gestured to the bartender for two more.
Great game, huh? he said, looking up the baseball game on TV.
They got a great team this year.

Sure, I said, as the fresh bottle appeared in front of me.
I don't know anything about baseball.
Most human sports seem beyond stupid to me.

What line of work you in? he asked.
Sanitation, I said.
Well, there's always demand for that, he said.

Next he started telling me about his line of work: insurance.
He tells me how he travels three or four days a week.
It's hard. He doesn't like to travel.
He used to be married.
His wife couldn't stand him being away all the time.
She thought he was cheating on her,
so she started cheating on him.
He had been cheating on her.
They divorced.

It was for the best, he told me. I nodded.
He ordered another round.
What about you? he asked.
Not married, I told him, and that was enough.
He didn't want to listen. He wanted to talk.

He was getting drunk.
He was getting drunk enough to tell me what he wanted to tell me.

He had a new girlfriend, a real looker, a real beauty.
Great ass, he said. I'm an ass man. You an ass man?

Not specifically, I told him.

I want to do her in the ass, he says, but she keeps saying no.
Too bad, I say.
I want him to go away, but he's enthusiastic about telling me all this.

She told me there's no what she's letting me do that to her
unless I'm willing to do it to myself, he tells me.

Um, I say.

At first I think no way, but then one day I was walking on the beach.
I was walking along and I see this rock. It's about this long,
and he holds up his index finger.

It's this long, about this thick, and smooth.
I figure I could take this, and then she would have to let me do it to her.

Uh, I say. He orders another round.

So I take it home to try it. I get in the shower, cover it in Vaseline,
and I shove it up there. It doesn't hurt much, goes right in.
Then you know what happens?

No, I tell him.

I can't get it back out! It's up there. I'm poking in with my fingers
trying to grab it and it just goes further in. It goes in forever.

Too bad, I say.

Yeah. I don't want to go to the doctor.
How do you explain a rock up the ass?
I don't want to wait and poop it out,
because then I would have to get it out of the toilet.

Wouldn't it just flush? I ask.

Not sure, he says. He didn't want to take the chance.

So I was in the shower for half an hour pushing, fingering my ass,
trying to get the thing out. It was awful.

Oh, I say.

It finally came out, he says.

That's good, I say.

Now I don't mind taking it up the ass, he says.

Oh. Um. Uh.

He puts ten dollars down on the bar and gets up.
Have a good night pal, he says.
Good talking to you.

You too, I tell him.
I've just got that kind of face, I guess.
You can tell things to a bird that you can't tell another man.
But now I have to find another bar to drink in after work.

Why the hell can't he talk to the robins in the park?

But in the end it was just one of those things that happened.
I thought about putting it in a book one day,
but it has no place in any story.
It was just one of those things.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Among the Humans: An Excerpt

(Note: As the wrangling continues to bring the complete text of Jerry's ground-breaking memoir Among The Humans back to the general public, we have finally been granted permission to publish this short excerpt. If everything proceeds as planned, the complete version will be available in spring or early summer. In this particular passage, Jerry goes next door to have dinner with his neighbor, who is the goaltender for the local minor league hockey team. Enjoy.)


Tank fried the steaks on the stovetop. He boiled some potatoes and put together a green salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber.

I sat at the kitchen table with an open beer while he cooked. "I guess you'll expect me to put out after the fancy meal," I said.

He laughed and poked at the steaks. He was smoking a cigarette, and he had an open beer and a cup of coffee going. "Hey, I'm not a bird-o-sexual. I don't know. Are there bird-o-sexuals?"

"Probably," I said. "There's everything."

"Yeah, I guess so. Well, don't worry, this isn't a fancy date. I always eat like this. I'm an athlete. I have to take care of myself." He finished his beer, dropped his cigarette butt into the empty bottle, and got a fresh beer out of the fridge.

"Well, it's fancier than I usually see guys cook," I said. "Most of the guys I've met barely eat at all. Just junk food, or twenty-five cent hamburgers."

"You can't live on that stuff." Tank set the two plates on the table. He watched as I used the knife and fork to cut everything into small pieces, and then began pecking up the bits in my beak. The steak was good. I hadn't eaten much steak before.

"This is weird," he said with a chuckle. "I mean, I guess I've seen birds eat before, but not like this. Sorry if I'm being rude staring."

I wiped the tip of my beak. "No big deal," I said. "I know we're different from each other."

"If you don't mind me asking," he said, "how come you... oh hell, I don't even know how to ask this. How come you're not a regular bird, you know? How come you're person sized, and you talk and everything?"

I shrugged. "Lucky, I guess." I had a drink. "There's just something that happens. Some people think it's because of the government testing atomic weapons or something, but it's actually been going on since, I don't know. The twenties. Maybe earlier. Sometimes animals figure they're not just animals. They grow up to person size, walk among the humans, figure out how to talk, drive cars, or do whatever. There's quite a few of us around, actually. Not many in this town, but I hear New York has a big community of...talking animals, I guess you call us."

"Huh," he said. "How come you don't move to New York then?"

"I visited. I didn't like it. Too noisy."

"Yeah," he nodded. "I'm not a big fan either. I heard about the animals when I was there, actually. You could go to like, animal shows. Not a zoo, but like a night club or something, and the animals perform. Even some kinky shit, like for guys who want to get it on with animals. Hey, like you said, there's everything, right? Everybody has some kind of kinky fetish."

"Right. That's not really for me. I'm not saying I don't like human women. I just mean that I wouldn't want to be with someone because I fulfill their fetish."

He put a piece of meat in his mouth. "You said you were common law once, right? What was that like? Was that with a girl? I mean a regular girl?"

"Yeah," I said, "a regular human girl. That was a strange relationship. My first and only with a human girl, actually. She came onto me in a bar, and ended up moving in with me. That was in St. Louis. We were together for about two years. She was a drunk and a pill popper. I didn't know what the hell was going on with her most of the time. She ran around on me a lot, I know that for sure."

"Man, that sounds like shit," Tank said. "You kick her out?"

"Nah," I said. "I had a hard time getting work, and I eventually lost my apartment. She just went and shacked up with another one of her boyfriends. I said to hell with it all and left town."

"That's rough." Tank hesitated, put a piece of meat in his mouth, and then made a show of thinking hard about something while he chewed. "This is another weird question," he said, "but you guys, did you... you know?"

"What?"

"Well, you're a bird and she was a regular girl. Did you guys, you know, sleep together?"

I cocked my head to one side. "Are you asking if we had sex?"

"Yeah, 'cause I mean, how would that work? You guys, you wouldn't exactly match up, right?"

"We matched up well enough," I said, smiling my little smile. "I think that's all I really need to say about that."

"Sure, sure," Tank said, nodding and smiling. He reached for his beer and took a drink. He looked embarrassed. "It's just funny, right? Because if you guys got it on, what would happen? Ha ha, if you knocked her up, would she end up laying an egg or something? I'm just joking around."

"Right," I said, poking around the salad with my fork. "What about you?" I said, hoping to draw the conversation away from my interspecies sex life. "You seeing anyone now?"

"Me? Hell no," he said. "I'm still settling in. Too busy with the team. We're just wrapping up training camp. I'll probably start meeting some girls once the season starts. There are always girls hanging around teams. You're going out with that Penelope girl now, right?"

My eyes popped wide open. "What makes you say that?"

Tank shrugged. "You guys left the party together. I just figured, you know."

"No," I said. "We just left at the same time. We each went to our own place."

"Right."

I poured some beer into my beak. "But since you mentioned it," I said. "I uh, I've been thinking about some way to talk to her. Some reason to knock on her door and say hello, if you know what I mean."

"You're shy, huh?" He grinned. "That's funny. You weren't shy about knocking on my door."

"That was a different circumstance."

"Yeah, I'm just kidding." He sat up and opened his eyes brightly. "I've got it, Jerry. My team's opener is this Friday. Invite her to the game."

"Hockey?"

"Sure. A hockey game is a great time. It's like taking a girl to a movie, except better, because you can talk to her all the way through. And the two of you can drink beer."

"I guess," I said. "I've never really watched a hockey game. And I don't know if she likes it either."

"Ah," he said, waving away my concerns. "It's zero risk. If she says no, at least the invitation is a conversation starter. I'll get you a pair of tickets. They always have tickets available for the players, and I don't have anybody else to give them to. It's not like my wife is going to make the trip. I wish she would, though. I'd like my kids to see me play at some point. I mean, it's not the big league, but even so."

I thought it over. "Okay," I said. "I guess it's worth a try."
 
* * * * *
 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The First Painting

Self Portrait (Penelope's Picture). Jerry the Bird, 1973.
This is an image of what is reliably believed to be Jerry the Bird's first painting. It was made with acrylic paint on cold-press paper, approximately nine by twelve inches. It can safely be assumed that it was painted in 1973, or possibly early in 1974.

Jerry himself referred to this painting as "Penelope's Picture." He is referring to the character of Penelope in his memoir "Among the Humans," although the real name of the woman upon whom Penelope was based is something Jerry never revealed.

"Penelope's Picture" refers to the painting that she painted of Jerry. According to "Among the Humans," she and Jerry were next-door neighbors in an apartment court. He sat for her and she painted his portrait. Jerry writes that Penelope was a fan of Marcel Duchamp, the French-born artist and thinker. Late in his career, Duchamp decided to create miniature museums of his work, tiny enough that they could be carried in fold-out suitcases. He meticulously recreated his earlier works in reduced size, and this was a concept that Penelope was very taken by. After painting Jerry's portrait, she also painted a miniature version, about the size of a baseball card.

When Penelope leaves the apartment at the conclusion of "Among the Humans," she leaves the miniature of her portrait behind for Jerry to find. Jerry later decided to recreate her original portrait of him by copying the miniature back to its original size. This was his first attempt at painting, and according to interviews where he discusses his visual art, it took him a great deal of work. The painting took dozens of attempts to get right. Early attempts were destroyed. The only one that survived was the only one Jerry felt even marginally satisfied with.

The creation of this painting was a watershed project in Jerry's career, and it is yet another example of the profound effect his relationship with the Penelope woman had on him.

From a textual point of view, the painting is quite extrordinary as a "self-portrait"; it is a self-portrait based on a miniature copy of a portrait painted by someone else. But it helped establish what would become Jerry's signature style: crude, simplistic, but evocative and colorful. How much of this style is copied from the portrait Penelope painted is unknown. It has never been seen.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Poem: Unwritten Unsent

Self-Portrait (pretending to be a writer) Jerry the Bird, 1975.
It's been a few years now,
he said, starting a country song.

There was a fuss with you and I
                          crazy things happened
                                                crazy scenes and a desperate love (one-way)
and you didn't want to deal with things too deeply
You left so fast and left no trace, just an empty apartment next to mine.

I can't blame you,
but you'll understand if I take your decision to disappear in so dramatic a fashion personally.

All the same, I wish I could write you letters and tell you about how I love who you are.

If I heard from you again or never did, I could write you letters to sing your praises.

Of course I understand not wanting those letters. Forget things, leave it behind.

But wouldn't it be nice to get love letters every once in a while that asked no obligation?

I've got nowhere to send those letters, so they don't get written. Instead it's the bad poems that get sent out in search of your eyes, one thousand issues of a very little magazine into the two hundred and fifty million of us in America.

The love comes out one way or another, looking for you.


Jerry the Bird, 1977.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Poem: Subway Pigeons

Self Portrait, Walking at Night. Jerry the Bird, 1975.

The one winter night I was going back and forth across town
I'd been staying in this dump of an apartment
it was a flophouse, really,
some burned out hippies had made the place open to
whoever wanted to come around and drink wine or smoke pot
or just needed a place indoors to crash

but nothing lasts

and eventually the hippies and the drunks and the burnouts all got the boot
and we all ended up out on the street
scratching our asses and wondering where to go next.

I knew a few people around town
and I had a pocket full of change from playing cards
with the hippies and the burnouts and the winos
so I made phone calls
and rode the trains
and walked
and went all around the city
seeing if anyone had a couch
or even a space on the goddamn floor where a bird could sleep for a few nights.

Back and forth across the city a few times
and I hate riding the trains because people stare and get weird around me
some old bastard once shooed me with a rolled up newspaper
and I said hey man, what's your problem
and he said people only
and I said the man took my fare and didn't say anything so get lost

but it was getting late and I was stuck with nowhere to go
and it was getting cold

and I was standing around in a station
wondering if I should walk up to street level
(there was nothing up there for me)
or should I go back down and get back on the trains
(there was nowhere to go)

near the staircase that led up to the street was a big heater
blowing warm air into the station
but it wasn't warm to stand under it because of the wind from the stairs

but sitting on top of the heater is a half-dozen pigeons
and there are a few walking in little circles under the heater
and they are taking turns

one of them walking around in circles will fly up
and bump the end of the line
and the one at the other end will get bumped off
and they all get moved down a little bit
and so they all get their turn

but they all seem to look at me and say
don't even think about it you big bastard
you're you and we're us
and you're not one of us
so don't try to play bird
you're wearing a coat
you're playing human
you've crossed the line
and you're on their side now
go play with your human friends
and don't try to play bird anymore

you're out of the goddamn club.

And I stand and watch them trade places for a while

and I bum a cigarette off an old fellow

and I walk back up to the street to walk nowhere

and goddamn is it cold out here tonight.


Jerry the Bird, 1975.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interview: Jerry meets The Underground Press, 1975

Self Portrait "In My Prime." Jerry the Bird, 1976.
Following the publication of Among the Humans in 1974, Jerry was briefly something of an underground star. He was interviewed by some mainstream media outlets, but more often by student newspapers, small-run magazines, and so-called "underground" papers. One such paper to interview him was the Denver-based "Underground Calliope," which spoke to him in 1975. The article is reprinted here in full.

"Jerry the Bird Comes to Colorado."

by Taylor Gibbs and Wallace Carlson

Sometimes the clouds part and the sun shines in on our little freakshow in the mountains. Even though the Mile High State can be a little hard to take, occassionally a wandering soul joins us to remind us what's going on in the real world. Such is the case right now, as Denver welcomes writer, poet, and unintentional animal rights activist Jerry the Bird.

Jerry has come to Denver to give a poetry reading at Roy's Cafe on Saturday night. We caught up with him at the Holiday Inn hotel lounge and watched him drink beers and smoke cigarettes. And of course, we asked him some questions about what it's like for a bird in America.

Taylor Gibbs: Welcome to Denver.

Jerry the Bird: Thanks. I've been to Denver before actually, but not for a few years. It looks about the same. Except this time I'm staying in a hotel.

Wallace Carlson: Where'd you stay last time?

JtB: Larimer Street, down on skid row. I remember crashing one night in a shelter down there, but they wouldn't let me in the second night.

TG: How come?

JtB: I don't know. I guess somebody complained or something. A lot of places don't like birds or animals coming in. You hear all sorts of stuff. You'll bring in fleas, you'll shit all over the place. It wasn't so bad though. It was in summer time. It would have been worse in winter, I imagine. I've never been here in winter, but I bet it sucks to sleep on the street here in December.

WC: You bet.

TG: Your book, "Among the Humans," deals with a lot of issues like that, with harrassment and discrimination of animals who are trying to live in human society. There are incidents like having popcorn thrown at you at an ice hockey game and being mistreated at parties. Do you still deal with those issues?

JtB: Sure. Not much has changed, but the events in the book are fairly recent. It's all pretty much the same, but I try not to get all angry or broken up about it. I can see things from a human's point of view, to a certain extent. You look at a big animal and you don't see an equal. You see someone who belongs outside, or on a leash, or in a zoo. You have a hard time computing that this big furry or feathered beast could be your friend, or could get served in a restaurant.

TG: Do you think your book could help change that perception? Like people could read it and maybe see animals differently?

JtB: Maybe. That's possible, but I don't think it will have that kind of reach. Maybe it will be a drop in the bucket, like a small part of a bigger wave. I think things will eventually get better. I don't know if I'll see it in my lifetime. Like black authors in the Nineteenth Century, maybe their books did some good, but I bet it still sucked for them at the time, you know?

WC: You think there are comparisons there?

JtB: I don't know, man. I wouldn't want to open that can of worms, because someone will get sensitive. You don't want to say animals are like the blacks, because then it will get turned around and someone will say oh, he's saying blacks are like animals. You can't say anything. It always gets twisted around. That's why I didn't talk about any of that stuff when I wrote the book. I just tried to talk about me, my experience. The book is supposed to be just a little love story, but it gets blown up into the bigger issues surrounding it.

TG: Johnny America has been talking about your book a lot. He says it tells the story of a lot of birds and animals in America.

JtB: Right, Johnny America, the great American eagle. That's true, I've seen him mention "Among the Humans" in a few different interviews. You know what's funny? He talks about it a lot, but I can never tell if he even liked the book or not.

TG: How come?

JtB: Because he always sounds so mad when he's talking about it.

WC: Yeah, but don't you think he's mad about what the book is talking about? He's mad about how you're treated in the book?

JtB: Maybe. But like I said, the book is meant to be a tragic love story. He's blowing it up into something bigger.

TG: Isn't the tragedy of the book the social injustice though? The girl and the bird can't be together because she's a human and he's a bird.

JtB: That's not why they can't be together.. Well, it is, but it's not a social barrier. He doesn't have a penis. Girls want a guy with a penis. It's like Hemingway. In Hemingway they're both humans, but they can't be together because the guy got his dick blown off in the war. She wants a guy with a dick.

TG: I don't remember that part.

WC: I only read "The Old Man and The Sea." In high school.

JtB: It's in one of his other ones. It's not important. You get my point.

TG: Does it bother you that Johnny America keeps talking about your book?

JtB: Not really. I know he's trying to help animals get equality, or better treatment, or something like that. That's all right, I guess. It's probably helping with sales, too. But I don't necessarily want to be a spokebird for anything. I'm still trying to figure things out for myself. The Eagle of Washington seems to have everything figured out for everybody.

TG: You mentioned he's an eagle. Some people say he's using the fact that he's an eagle, which is an obvious American symbol, to elevate the status of his arguments.

JtB: Maybe he is. He sure looks like someone who should be arguing in Washington.

TG: You make it a point in the book not to say what kind of bird you are. Why?

JtB: Because people make assumptions based on it. If I told you I was a pigeon, you would think about shitting on statues. If I said crow, you would think about eating roadkill. It's not much different from humans. What's your background?

TG: German and Irish.

WC: I'm obviously black.

JtB: Right. And maybe someone would say, oh, he's black. He's probably a good athlete. Or he's Irish. He has a hot temper. Or he's German. He likes war or something. People make assumptions. Who cares what kind of bird I am? Does it make a difference? If I write a good poem or a good story, that should be enough.

TG: Is it true you write detective novels under pen names?

JtB: Sure.

TG: Why don't you just use your own name?

JtB: For the same reason. If people know a bird wrote the book, they'll be thinking about a bird the whole time when they read it. I'd rather they didn't think about it at all.

TG: Do you want to reveal your pen name? I'm sure a lot of people would like to read your detective novels.

JtB: That's the beauty of it. They may have read them already.

* * *