The Dead Bird
“…my girl's sparrow is dead--
the sparrow, delight of my girl,
whom that girl loved more than her own eyes…
Oh evil deed! Oh wretched little sparrow!
Now through your deeds the eyes of my girl,
swollen with weeping, are red.”
Five hundred years ago, a child grieved with such perfection that an unknown artist – with his subtle and cunning ways – sought to invade the sanctuary of her youthful lamentation. Her ivory mourning clothes, her gentle confusion, the purity of her sadness, was too much of a temptation for the painter not to try and capture her flawless sorrow.
The font of her distress lay crumpled in her hands, held like a crushed offering. She doesn’t look at it, but stares straight ahead, holding it with the intuition and perception of the blind: as if all she needed to know came from her sense of touch.
She is holding her pet bird. Its throat has been broken; its feathers are torn. Once blithe and dancing, it is now coiled in death’s feral grip, a dominion beyond the comprehension of its loving owner.
Her eyes wander beyond the edges of the canvas, beyond the limits of her childish experience. She is lost in the miasma of a truth that flickers like foxfire – a truth both sought-after and – once found - unacceptable. She holds the dead bird tight, searching for the warmth of its quick heart, the slightest hope of life. But it is as lifeless as a doll.
Throughout the centuries, deceased animals, scattered flowers, crushed fruits, rotting leaves were included in works of art to remind the viewer of the brevity of life – the evanescence of nature’s beauty. But of all these symbols, there has never been one as intimate as a dead sparrow cradled in its mistress’ hands. This could still be an example of vanitas art, but the argument is strong for the intuitive portrait by an anonymous artist, who just happened to remember a past reading of Catullus’ poem.
We will never know the true meaning. All we have before us is a child’s ethereal emotion, a wraith drifting between anger and sadness as she wonders who could have attempted such subtle thievery and throttled her toy in the night.
Melinda Giordano is a native of Los Angeles, California. A published artist and writer, her written pieces have appeared in the Lake Effect Magazine, Scheherazade’s Bequest, Whisperings, Circa Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, After the Art and The Rabbit Hole among others. She was also a regular poetry contributor to CalamitiesPress.com with her own column, ‘I Wandered and Listened’ and was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
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