Migrations by Reginald Gibbons
Near every state capital, elderly nuns are arriving to be imprisoned. Outside the penitentiary gates their friends sing songs with them and pray, a man holds up a poster he made that says “Welcome to Caesar’s Palace,” and from the office windows, high above ground, the warden’s staff are watching. They wish the laws and customs did not require nuns to arrive like tall waterfowl to be caged for half the year for having chosen to step again into the forbidden precincts of nuclear missiles.
Pale gulls stand in the dark plowed fields like delegates. The scent of the turned earth fills the air. Standing among the gulls, two small black overcoats, cawing. In a long line, close beside each other, poplars seem to have arrived with the intention of awaiting some disclosure. Beside them on the dusty road the haggard, bearded wanderer is walking, on his way toward some civilization or other, looking down, smoking a cigarette, while in his mind the words that he puts near each other burst into small flames.
X was an interrogator for the chief precinct of the city, a torturer with a nearly infallible sense of the near side of the limits of physical agony, humiliation and impotent fear, in human beings — a man who was known to his superiors and fellows for his impeccable silence both when at work (others asked the meaningless questions) and afterward, and who under another name wrote poems. These survived their own era, moving steadily like a small flock through time, never to return to his own time. Three hundred years later, when poetry was discovered around the unearthed rubble around formerly great buildings, poems by X were considered to be of especially delicate, memorable beauty, but about their author nothing, not even his false name, was known.
The collection manager of the bird specimens at the natural history museum told of stopping, on his way to work during spring and fall, at the immense convention building — long and wide — on the shore of Lake Michigan, where on the north side he picks up the bodies of the migratory birds killed by their collisions against the expanse of glass before first light. The north side, whether in fall or in spring — a puzzle. Are these particular birds blown off course by winds, and do they return in starlight or dimness before dawn or under dark clouds toward shore, making for the large bulk they might perceive as forest? They have been flying along this same route for thousands and tens of thousands of years, and not yet has their thought formed about the obstacle of the city that has appeared in the inconceivably swift stroke of a hundred and fifty cycles of their migration.
Cries, in every season, left a basement room that lay below the intolerable weight of the whole prison, and through a heating duct they almost instantly reached a corridor — but already much weakened — and flew to the end of that corridor, where to pass through a door they gave up much of what was left of themselves, and gained another hallway and a window to the outside, but the window was closed against bad weather, and after passing through the brittle, merciless glass they attained the open air and whispered themselves to a leaf of grass and the fallen wingfeather of a sparrow, and finally with the weight of their own exhaustion they sank into the earth, unheard by anyone who would have wanted to answer.