by Emily Hanson
Every issue of Rock & Sling witnesses to a myriad of different ideas, feelings, and actions and each piece does so in a way that is specific to the individual writer. Issue 12.2 is no different than the rest in how it witnesses to a diverse set of ideas, but, what makes 12.2 special is the amount of bird poems. Each bird poem in 12.2 is about or has birds somewhere in it. This allows for each poem to use their similarities to showcase their differences. The similar subject matter connects these poems and starts a discourse about the nature of knowledge and innocence. All these poems connect to each other and use images of birds, sounds of birds, and birds as characters. Just looking at the issue, it seems like just a lot of bird poems. But between the poems, the messages and the discourse that happens adds so much to what birds can do in a poem, and introduces conversations about us and the world, our surroundings, and our sense of what it means to be temporary.
Collectively, all these bird poems address fleeting nature and the temporariness of presence. The poem, “The Bird” by Aaron Brown, witnesses to the loss of ones natural habitat and home. The poem tells the story of a crane brought to a courtyard by a family. Outside of its natural habitat, the wetlands, the bird is displaced and ends up dying three days later. The speaker does not know how the bird’s body is disposed of, and he thinks of the bird as growing with the trees, a return to nature, but this fantasy is interrupted with the idea that the bird was most likely burned/ in the rusted-out hulk of a diesel barrel” (19). Aaron Brown uses this contrast for the reader to truly get to the bird’s captivity in the family’s courtyard. The bird’s presence is the center of the poem, the family’s actions pivot around the presence of the bird, the papaya trees in the poem shelter the bird and the courtyard imprisons the bird, leading to his death.
In a series of bird poems that were selected for issue 12.2, “Birdsong I, II, III” Juned Subhan places the reader in the context of birds with the title, but the poems center on anything but. Unlike “The Bird,” by Aaron Brown, Subhan uses the title, “Birdsong” to place the reader in a serene and natural mind space, but Subhan interrupts this picture in “Birdsong I” in the second stanza, “my husband nestled beside my bed/ in his rosewood casket,/ slipped out naked/ with a heavy heart, his heart heavy like a drowned lung” (37). The shock that this image provides with the expectation of the reader gets from the title is astounding and provoking. In all three of the “Birdsong” poems, the image of the husband rising from his coffin shocks the reader and draws them in, in a much different way than the death of the bird does in Aaron Brown’s poem. The focus on the husband in this series rather than the birdsong brings the reader back every time to the title, and what this birdsong can mean in the presence of death walking. Rather than an environmental witness in coordination with nature imagery combating urban imagery, the “Birdsong” series witnesses to a person’s experience with death while the world still works around them, and makes readers pause as they compare this bird poem with the last.
What these four poems with birds and about birds do is create a discourse through their similar themes and images. Like any of the other issues of Rock & Sling, or any literary magazine for that matter, the writing published in the issue is what is showcased through the presence of the other writings within the magazine. There is no issue that is made through the publication of one story, one poem, or one author. Issues of literary magazines are brought to life through the themes that each piece witnesses to. These themes and musings are the center of every magazine that Rock & Sling publishes. Issue 12.2 I think does this in a much more notable way, because a quarter of the poetry in the issue features birds in someway. The uniqueness of each poem, and the way in which the conversations are brought to life by the reader and the surrounding writings help in creating a thematic touchstone—together, the four poems above these focus on death, and the idyllic presence of nature but separately focus on very different things. This issue of Rock & Sling focuses on each individual poem, short story, and nonfiction story, but also is one of the issues that has a stronger thematic similarity, and this is to its benefit because it is a showcase of what individuals can do and what can happen when separate talents are pulled together and make creative discourse.
Note: The other bird poems in this issue are:
“What Crows Know” by Brian G. Phipps
“The Philosophy of Ornithology” by Will McCabe