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Thunder Pie | Night Bird

Warm baby shadow sunshine death.

Night birds come and go without sound. That’s why no one knows about them. The sky being dark, they move unseen, undetected. Unknown. Of course, the moon and the stars are in on the game. Night birds cast no shadow. The celestial bodies, which get off on painting midnight with strange gilts and uneven films of violet silvers and dusty golds, they ignore these birds. It’s another tale altogether, of course, but for the sake of our thing here let’s just reveal that it’s all the direct result of an ancient pact in which the night birds are allowed undetected passage between any and all natural light shafts. In return, the birds themselves must give over the impossible gossamer and the translucent skin wrapping their potato chip bones.

The night birds are the wee-est of creatures to the night in question when the time comes. Their lives are plunged in mystery, their deaths even more so.

You ask good questions. I admire your wild curiosity.

How do they know when the time comes?, you say.

No one knows, is all I can tell you. Because in truth, I do not know. No one can say. It is a matter solely settled between the night birds and the night skies. This is a dance of nature that has been going on since long before recorded history.

On the old cave walls in France/ beneath sunbaked rocks in hottest Africa/ dead poets called them angels/ living ones call them ghosts/ but no matter who you are or where you roam, one thing remains as certain as time itself. Night birds are living out their existence in utter anonymity, just feet away, just mere inches away, I tell you, from the eyes of we humans who believe we run the world.

Which we don’t, by the way.

As I will soon reveal.


Oh, and one last point I feel bears mentioning.

If you were, in fact, to ever catch a glimpse of a night bird: say, out of the corner of your eye, by some rarest of chance, as you drag the trash cans to the curb some summer evening/ or perhaps: tilting your head back to polish off the last slicks of backwash from a hollow beer can/ your eyes might slip out of the camp fire’s eerie glow/ up, up, up into the wistful endless firmament/ everything unfolding in such a way that you somehow manage to witness a thing you oughtn’t had.

The swift slip of a night bird passing. Her silence possessing you/ her scent: the smell of iced guns. Your weary eyes mixing with the flit of a flung bijou. The cosmos shifting, uncomfortable and sad.

For now, I am afraid, you must die. After nine days past, upon the ninth night standing, as the antique decree comes down, you will perish from this life in noticeable fashion. Or, rather, you would if you saw the nightbird. Nine days later, on the eve of the ninth night after a person sees the elusive night bird with their own eyes, they die. This is how things are. Please don’t kill the messenger. Life is never black and white.

Everything, it seems to me, is grey.


Which brings us, inevitably, to me. As I am wont to do here in these spaces. For indeed, just the other night, two nights ago to be exact, I was walking from my car in the heavy rain to our back door when something in the sky by the white pine caught my attention.

Immediately, I was taken aback. And seconds later, what I had seen plundering across my consciousness with the roar of 10,000 Vikings burning me down, I felt a fear so stunning and vast in its scope that it served to belittle any and all scares I had ever known before up to that point.

The bird had been brazen, I argue. Perhaps inspired by such a dreary night, it likely swooped away from the heritage of caution propping up its very system and, foolishly, haphazardly, came darting around above my head in some certain way that ensured it was witnessed by yours truly in a moment of absolute innocence on my part.

My heart stopped then. I felt the mercury flying off the poison, circling my beats like bats. I heard the cries of the children singing back behind the creek, the tender haunted hush songs of the dead announcing what was suddenly unfolding. My impending demise, it turns out, is big news in these local woods, down in the weeds along the water. The bird I’d seen, I saw it no more. Only a flash, a rush, a streak of something flying is all it takes. A challenge to your existence is just as easy as that. And then there is the rain that followed/ bashing harder than all day long/ pinning me with slivered ice darts/ louder and louder and louder and louder!/ there came a sense of tent-like encapsulation/ a feeling of warmth from the hissing downpour/ beneath my boots I could feel white pine cones like squishable stones, like dead wet mice/ and this, I figured, was nature’s way of allowing me to grieve myself in the moments before the panic set in, should it set like it should.

Plucked from the sea, a single unfortunate sand crab of no account and no true worth, I had been wrestled from my rainy evening and thrust into a nine day unwritten drama in which no scenes had been written, no dialogue scripted, no actors guaranteed work, and no plot what-so-ever short of this one heavy elevator pitch.

Mister average greatness middle aged American dad guy had just seen a night bird on a stormy Saturday night.

And that, as we are understanding, is not fucking good.


In imagination, I undress. In creativity, down in the throes of creation, I step out of my regular clothes and do you know what that feels like? That simple movement from layered to naked? My god, the sweet, sweet freedom of the jewels on a dangle, my pale back fat like a shining Sheetz out in the middle of Pickett’s Charge.

In a muse’s spit bath, I run around like a dopey kid trying to catch every hock being heaved my way. Why? Because it all feels so good. It tastes so amazing. The loose throat scrapings from a creature admired, I suck them down like M&Ms, man. Like my dogs catching the random popcorn kernels we flick at them from the couch, I am a brook trout smashing at black ants on the current. I am a man possessed.

And what greater feeling is there than that?

Tell me if you know one, I beg of you.

For me, at this point, trapped in this body and tied to this story, I am dragging around entire cities on my chains. On my filthy, rusted, unbreakable chains. I can’t tell if everything I am/ every memory I have/ every part of me that’s been banged this way and forced that way by the glimpses and curses and promises of people like you/ every inch of me that has been tattoo’d by your fingers, or by the likes of some motherfucker just like you: pinching ink into my forearms: covering me with images and messages of notions, big and small, that you took out of yourself and painted all over me, long ago, years and years ago, but also today, you know? Last week. Last month and yesterday. You’re still at it. I’m still at it. Hell, we’re still sleeping out on the balconies of people we hardly know/ pounding on their sliding glass doors/ deep in the night/ sweet talking jive at them until they still won’t let us in like we want/ then slathering them with vulgarity and promises of inimitable revenge that will scar them forever in the name of forsaking us by simply knowing us.

Fucking pigs.

Fucking animals not holding the door open for you at the Burger King.

Fucking swine caving your skull in with their workday water cooler chat mallets.

Fucking piglets grabbing your titty nips as you scream bloody murder because they have drained you dry: drained woman of milk and hope and longing: drained man of patience and the ability to abstain from drinking like some liver/yellow wino squatting back in the shadows of some shitty cold boxcar rattling, scattling, battling some 10,000 year-old mad Wyoming wind.

Fucking hogs jamming your droppings back up your ass.

Fucking boars pointing out every little mistake you’ve made.

Fucking pork chop shoes on your feet/ you go slipping and sliding all over the house, crashing through the kitchen window/ shattered glass and the IPA bottle still in your gushing hand as you lay there looking up at the sky from the deck and then it happens.

Fucker of fucks.


You see a night bird.

And you piss in your fat pants.

Warm baby shadow sunshine death.

The very art of creativity isn’t really the point, I don’t think. You have to pull back here. You have to pan backwards and disregard all of your preconceived artistic notions about the shit that you like personally and the shit that other people dig and what sells and what doesn’t and all of that pig slop in lieu of basically just looking down on your own personal beauty like an astronaut gazing down on the blue and white marble from outer space and sighing at all that tragic breathless beauty.

You have to imagine yourself a pretty fine whore if you want to make it in the halls of your own creativity. I mean, you have to have some kind of warped vision to begin with, some kind of belief in your own mischievous purr, your own idling madness. You have to see yourself as the best there ever was, just to get the juices flowing, I have found.

But what do I know?

What the fuck does this guy know??

Excellent question. I am glad you asked it.

Because I know a thing or two about the power of art. The tides down in us. The basic structures of our flagrant reticence. Our refusal to allow ourselves even a smattering of grace when there remains, as it so happens, a galaxy of self-loathing doubt and fear that we must tend to long before we might ever go searching, with our naked eyes for a vision of ourselves out there in the endless darkness… smiling and fulfilled and happy.

No. No, no, no. This isn’t some kind of bullshit quit-your-day-job and do something that makes you excited article. There are enough of them out there and each of them is designed, I suspect, to get you to notice that your life is absolute fucking shit/ kind of like this raging notion that you exist in a vacuum of commercial consumerism and your spouse thinks you suck in bed and everyone at your job is an energy vampire and even your dog wonders why you keep bashing your head against the wall of life when all it ever does is spin you back around towards some kind of strange false reality.

You want to strip your clothes off and run naked through the malls of art.

You want to smash your junk up on the glass canvas of the Spencer’s Gifts window and cackle laugh like a goddamn witch at the Chucky hoodie staring back at you.

You, if you’re anything like me, you want to speed your Honda or your Subaru or whatever overpriced flap of pig shit you drive, directly at a telephone pole and mash the gas to Radar Love blaring from your shitty factory installed speakers as you scream culturally inappropriate warrior sounds in the instant before everything collides and thunders and darkens around you like a falling army of flares dropping from the sky.

Then you are rebooted and you open your eyes and you feel alive again.

Fucking Alive A-Fucking-Gain!!!!

Do you remember??!!

Do you remember me??!!, your long lost spirit will cry as it shakes you and kisses your cheeks and holds your face in its palms, beaming at you, beaming at your light. Your incredible magical UFO light.

And you will remember.

You will remember because you have lost your mind. And everything that held you back before, all those hangups and glitches and homespun problems piling up on top of your desire to just Sharpie a wang on a street sign in the name of what?….of something…. of anything, man! Only a fool wouldn’t smile at that thing!!

Only a damn dead insider would roll up to that stop sign you defaced and not giggle a little at the remnants of your lost creativity ramshackling back from the dead, awoken by a telephone pole to the forehead or whatever, a new muse pouring out, pushing them down, into the void, towards a sparking scintilla of their own Sharpie way back in a drawer.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin.