The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2016

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OCT 2016 Issue

a misplaced bestiary
Part 2: The Oilbird: Negrisis Giganticus

Note: This bird is not to be confused in any way with the Oilbird (Steatornis Caripensis) whose purposes are well known to ornithologists.


Sixty-five million years ago, we believe, the world was beset by a slight but significant oversupply of light. The sun had extended itself too far too soon, and as a result the days had grown imperceptibly brighter.  The seas shrunk to the size of immense lakes.  Huge clouds hundreds of miles long covered the land.  But the light shone through and filled up everything.  There was hardly anywhere it did not reach.  It entered the limestone caves of what is now southern New Mexico, and its heavier and heavier density colored the rocks of what was to be The Grand Canyon a deeper yellow and a more intense rose. Falling heavily into the abnormally warming Arctic, it descended on the snowshoe rabbits and turned them dark and then white again. It blanched the rocks even whiter near Dover in England. Its oversupply of light produced sheep with brilliantly silvered wool.  It shone and shone for centuries, and when it sifted through the world, like a kind of heavier, silvered dust, its sense-laden fingers touched everything in their vast grasp, filling the air with thorns of light, as if waiting for a savior to be  born out of the heat, to come in his heavy glory and be crucified upon its still and terrible thermometric  altar. 

The light grew.  It became immense. It cowered over the walls of all flesh and knocked continually even on the doors of the mountains, wanting impatiently to be admitted into those hardened mysteries, led by an invisible hand into the unspeaking tones and open overtones of its molecularly intensified voice. No, not the slightest doubt shimmered from that over-amplified voice. Only an intolerable absence of doubt, an iron-wrapped grasp; and also a resounding note of immense, arrogant certainty, indistinguishable from its presence, emanated from itself in straightened, extended lines.

The light wandered, lapping up with its curled and tongue-fired, reflective brush the few remaining shadows it found in its meticulously planned and methodical search, and finally, with its fingers, delicate as the finest knives, opening more and more of the minute but growing cracks in the earth. The cracks became, themselves, long fingers of light.  Immense fissures, like living trees, opened to a further central core of darkness, a private irreducible core, which disappeared within the almost instantaneous exploration.  And the light sang as it opened space after space, the way a knife sharpened on a whetstone sings as it perfects its edge and the sound of its edge, sang within itself wholly and because of its growing appetite, sang.

And even at sea, in the darkest depths of the now shrunken ocean, miles down, the starfish and the other now lifted oceanic creatures saw something faint, a kind of dust which they had never seen before, descending toward them, opening their lives to the astounding distance of sight.  And at first they welcomed it, for the new stranger allowed them the miracle of sight, the sudden extension of their world. In darkness so long, they saw for the first time, while tears came to their newly washed and newly invented eyes, tears delivered from the very ocean itself.  The lantern fish put out their lanterns and found a new torch, which enveloped them like a halo, manifesting in its elegant simplicity a kind of sainthood, a soundless music extending outward from their bones.  But the light stayed within them and around them; and the things that had lived on the purified darkness so long, the creatures in the womb of that dark with all its multiplied possibilities, the longer the light stayed (and it stayed longer), began to grow more, more and more and more transparent, like other light-adapted fish at other lesser light-adapted depths, smaller fish which you can see through clear to the backbones. And they were afraid.  No one, no other before had eaten them in this way, poured into their lives and bodies like this.  They were afraid in a new way. 

And the creatures on land were afraid in this new way of what was called “a fixed frequency trembling”.  Even the snakes in their holes shivered with the approach of this new  and porous reptile of light; and the newts and toads and skunks and groundhogs, gophers and beetles and all the various kinds and kingdoms of burrowing bacteria, of which there were untold numbers, crept deeper into their earlier unknown selfhood, curling into and toward their disappearing centers. And the light blew on them, blew on them harder and harder, and they, too, opened to its vibratory key.

Yet this light, that seemed in its supremacy to pull back veil upon veil of shadowed mystery, could not, it must be emphatically said here—it must be here stated, here stained and stamped on the memory—could not in any way or way of waywardness change the long condensing, oleaginous Oilbird, the only unchanged, unopening creature of that time, could not unlock its knotted, molecular knit, could not invade its private dance with the frequencies of its sudden, bursting sight; for the Oilbird, bird of infinite mystery, grew whiter, whiter and whiter on the out of its outside, which was the skin of its skin, the illusion of its bodily form, but continued to lay its eggs there in a dark of its own origin, those of its primal, motionless meaning, millions and millions and millions of them, again and again for a long extended, long expanded time, and lay them there in the cracks the light itself was making. 

And when the eggs broke open in their natural multiplying expansion of birth, they spilled out their depth-laden black yolks, rivers and rivers of yolks.  The dark, dense liquid fell deeper, and the egg substances were soaked up by the earth, by the great layers of sandstone and shale, within the deep deposits of the mica schist and the speckled granite and jabbering gabbro of continents. And where the eggs of the Oilbird (Negrisis gigantigus) touched the rock (rock of all absorbent rocks), the rock grew black, infinitely blacker in the distances of colorlessness; and when the eggs of the Oilbird fell into the oceans or were washed into them, wave curling into wave, having rolled down the ascending continents, the oceans, themselves, turned black, turned so deep-set black that any other object which fell into them—lizard, silkworm, albatross, raven, blown insect or blown bacteria—grew black with it also; and the light could not touch them, though they died by the millions of millions and their deposits created the mountains, which after and within the yawns of time, began to rise from the bottoms of things, mountains that spoke with their uplifted darkness.  And when the cracks were filled to overflowing by the yolks of the Oilbirds, the shadow of the eggs cast a shadow over the light and the light cast a shadow of light over that shadow, like hands laid on top of one another in a game of hands and shadows, shadow on light and light on shadow, and the smooth and ever-layered conversation between them began.

Was it war we saw beginning when the light met the Oilbird?  Was it retribution in the unfounded nature of creation, or was it retribution long overdue on both sides of the spectrum, or was it an immense restoration, a return of balance to balance?  Was it the revenge of the darkness, which felt its unimaginably vast kingdom being so  silently, relentlessly overrun, peeled back into a negation, so silently smoothly overblown, and then so silently eroded, as it thought, by a lesser, more weightless force? Or was it a mere aberration in the balance of created and uncreated things, a miscalculation in the flow of a creative nothingness in which everything is bathed and to which everything returns for its power and its endlessly creative perpetuity?  Perhaps it was all these things, or in some proportion it was an indeterminate part of each of them. Nothing was changed in the intensity of the light, except that it continued growing, like a child of unknown children, eating and, through its longer and longer intestine, changing everything in its immense appetite, changing everything, except the eggs of the immortal Oilbirds.

For there was something inside these singular birds which was the inexact womb of the always-inflated darkness itself, the untouchable, unimaginable source of creation, which is inviolable and  infects everything and which, in its powerful, free-standing immobility, shakes and turns to an over-smooth liquid, even the rocks into heroic movements, upwards and outwards.  The original darkness the Oilbird had always produced, lay in pools throughout the planet, hundreds of feet deep, miles deep, and the shadows of these pools, like a veil flowing silently upwards as if to stain the moon with a tiny drop of its dark being, spun itself toward its primitive destiny, toward its ultimate, inwardly combustible vanishing point, as if a net were being woven over the turning planet. 

And those who saw its fluid intransigence came to the feet of the Oilbirds and said, "The darkness lives, and the light lives."  And they felt content again, as they had felt much earlier, almost remembering how it was at that moment just before they were born, before the light blanched and opened everything with its surgical knives.  And the cry of the Oilbirds went into them, and they knew the light had stopped and could go no further.

And this was the beginning of the first night, as the products of the eggs of the Oilbird settled into the earth, huddled in their half kingdom until the end of time. And what could not be spun out of the yolks of the Oilbird's eggs subsided into the earth, to lie in wait for something or some species who would need them desperately, some species who had discovered the light, become intoxicated by it, and was searching for the ultimate lubricant which would make the darkness and the light flow along the axes of the heart, and the Oilbird's dream would then be completed.

The Brooklyn Rail is proudly featuring Lost and Found Animals as a web exclusive serial through the Fall and well into 2017.


Sid Gershgoren

Sid Gershgoren has published six books of poetry and prose: The books of poetry: Negative Space, Mutual Breath (a book of 65  villanelles), Symphony (a medium long poem in a "symphonic" form), Through the Sky in the Lake (a book of "lines"), The Wandering Heron (a book of haiku), and two prose works, Past Rentals (a fictional "catalog" of a company that rent its "customers" space, place, and situation in a particular area of the past within a particular time, place, and situation), and The Extended Words (an imaginary dictionary). Sid Gershgoren has published widely in various magazines and anthologies. 


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2016

All Issues