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Of a Feather

Communing with Bernard Malamud’s Jewbird

Joe Hill
August 03, 2008

The essayist, unhappy and blocked, nothing new to say and no idea what to write, opened the window to air out the stale odor of himself, but the moment he turned his back, a scrawny black bird sailed in and settled on the bookshelf. That’s how it is in this life. The only way to keep the world from bursting in on you is to open nothing: windows, doors, books, your mind.

When he saw the bent and disheveled-looking bird, the essayist leaped to his feet. He had a bad experience once, trapped in a small room with a bat that made strafing runs at his head. The essayist grabbed the trash can beside his desk, aiming to trap the bird and then fling it outside.

Oy vey!” the bird shouted. “I’ve eaten garbage and been treated as such, but never been shoved into a rubbish bin before, thanks God. If you have a merciful soul, I say simply don’t. I have a claustrophobia. You want me to depart, give me a moment to rest. I know where the window is. Although with my rheumatism, I’d be grateful if I was allowed more than a moment. These wings weren’t meant for the mileage they’ve put in.”

The essayist, still coiled tight and ready to spring, said, “How are you talking to me? This some kind of prank? Are you hooked up with a radio transmitter?”

“No radio, sorry. Though I’d be pleased if you had one. Talk of the Nation is on shortly. I try to stay current. Also, speaking frankly, after a while the drone of those NPR voices gets to me and puts me to sleep. At my age I need all the rest I can get.”

Joe Hill is the author of two books, Heart-Shaped Box, a novel, and 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of stories.