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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of crows.

When you stroll down the street at 4:19 in the morning, and you suddenly stop—to look at two crows playing in a pine tree across whatever suburban street fate has stuck you on for the last year-and-a-half, there’s a history of crows, a tradition of crows, a discourse of crows that’s stopped you, and because you’ve stopped and are looking at them now, you can never be wholly aware of what that discourse, that history, that tradition was.

Sure, a moment on you recall the pair in the Neibelunglied, but you don’t recall the one you saw savaging a red cardinal carcass on the highway’s edge when you were five, or the one with the bilious tongue your father’s friend—Connie, I think his name was—split with a razor to make it talk, because he was under the mistaken impression that such cruelty would re-articulate the species and make of it a dusky parrot. Fiberglass curtains blew around the cage in the Harlem back window, while—its swollen tongue pink as a rose hip, holding apart its grey-black beak—the bird eyed me blackly, then looked down at the newspaper over the cage bottom, scattered with seeds and shit…

The really repressed, the inchoate, the inconue that one masks with public dragons and genre-determined strong men and women, to whom one loans one’s most cherished ideologies, one’s most committed desires, to make them strong enough to possess and hot enough to be possessable, they just don’t yield themselves up so easily as a pair of birds at play above the November sidewalk. That’s why we turn to them through genre tropes—because we don’t know what they’re really about. That’s what we need public symbols for—symbols that alone let us negotiate the unknown and the unknowable.

It’s because we can’t grasp, really, what they are to us, that, moments later, as the crows fly off above the green and orange alley, our throats suddenly fill and we are trying not to cry—

So then, angrily, we write about dragons.

Samuel R. Delany


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