The Goldfinch

Robin McCauley

On June 14th, 2017, 6:47 a.m. at 39 Latitude and -92 Longitude there is a goldfinch. Their bright yellow feathers and dark black wings stand out, no matter what world they are in. For a final, brief moment each bird is an individual, before they are flying, hopping, gazing, feeling a million different winds. There is a net, a birdbath, a ruined city in a tropical paradise that has never known human feet, where water spreads beneath the wings that kick up sand and leave the bird’s keen eyes searching for movement.

There is a woman in a white lab coat. Her eyes see only a small fraction of the whole. She feels a heartbeat that flutters with nerves. She looks into small black eyes and sees a creature who has no thought, only impulses. She thinks that she is quelling her own primal urges, the urges that would tell her this thing she has caught is food, but in truth she is no more in control than the goldfinch trapped in her hand. They are actually quite similar, in that way. The bird’s thoughts are of terror, it’s true, but it also can see a world where it is not an overgrown monkey that gazes with unrelenting eyes, but a black beast with wings that could easily envelop the woman. Their eyes are the same—that uncaring fascination.

There is a broken stone bowl, where water is long gone. Vines creep up the rocks as if they do not realize: their salvation has already been taken. These soon-to-die things are flicked aside as the goldfinches’ beaks probe the sandy expanse for something squirming beneath the dust. The goldfinch feels a vibration through their feet, but it is too large, and they are taking to the skies as a thing with narrowed pupils and sharp claws bounds towards them. The winds batter their frail body till they don’t know which way is up.

There is a bird, duller in color, who listens to the carefully crafted song that slides out their throat into a great expanse. The pink grass that covers the field waves and ripples, and the goldfinch is disinclined to try to land there, so they send out a song of Are You There? and listens to a reply so far away yet so near. They fly towards the tree where a bird waits, preening her feathers, but the goldfinch knows that this one is not the same as them. They are many, and this bird is one.

There is a rain that pours down constantly. The goldfinch is aware that this was not always the case, though its only experience with sun is on phantom wings on a me-not-me. They hop through mud that threatens to swallow them whole with jaws that are always out of sight. They know better than to let the sand cover them with water. They feel wind beneath waterlogged wings and relish in the feeling of weightlessness.

There is a wriggling thing, notable in that all the birds see this tiny squirming food. It twists and turns but does not understand that it will soon be nothing. How can it, when it cannot conceive of itself? A thought ripples across worlds that never knew the same sun: “I am hungry.” This is their first conscious thought. Their first foray into more than feelings and impulses. They are diving and hopping through mud and wind and sand and grass to feel their beaks all close around the worm that thrashes but cannot escape. Together, they swallow, and think: “Tasty.”