“I Wondered if I Had Been a Bird”

featured photo is a painting by Franz Marc, “Birds” (1914)

I Wondered if I Had Been a Bird

by Jade Nicole Beals

for May Ziadeh (b. 1886 - 1941)

I was very disturbed
when what I’d found logical  
what could explain all this is that
I could’ve been a bird 
before this.

A canary, your canary, specifically,
and how did all this start?
By re-reading what you wrote about your own canary bird
who had a mark of beauty on his nose you’d named “Mimi,”
and I instantly recalled the tiny dot on my own nose
mostly because I had been ashamed of it when I was a teenager,
and it was a perfectly dark tiny dot that I had actually forgot.

I looked in the mirror to find it there, faded and very subtle now.
I asked myself, why wouldn’t I want to have been a bird?
Do I have something against birds?
No, because I’ve felt I’ve always been human,
and because I wanted to be sexy,
a bird to me isn’t sexy,
despite the phrase, “rump-feathers,”
but then again, I am a woman now 
and you were a woman, and are still. 

I cried then because that little canary was clearly
the best person in your life…
When I told my mom most of this on the phone, 
after a pause, she said,
“What color is a canary? They’re yellow, right?”
I said, “Yes.” 
She said, “Ohh, that’s very pretty.”
and we began to talk peacefully
about other things.

May, was I your bird singing you songs without words
that made you smile and forget the sadness of the world?
Did you speak to me in French, in Arabic, or both,
and is that why I’d known some Arabic words almost instantly
upon hearing them, and recognized no words quickly read, but your name?

Is that why I felt I remembered what it looked like 
outside the windows of your home, and the shapes of them,
and the shapes and colors of the trees, in the country, Lebanon you’d lived then, 
and where I’d never been in my own lifetime?

Forget this. I would rather have been that bird,
even if you’d found that bird a little bit dumb and amusing,
but you’d loved him and loved to spoil him and spoke to him.
Maybe he lived in a pretty golden cage, to which, someone else held the key,
feeding on seeds, fruits, and overheard poetry.

I’d rather be that bird 
than a king or a celebrity with words that set your heart 
to song and also 
tore your world
and snuffed out 
your own flame,
but maybe they’d 
all just liked 
the sounds and scents all that rending made.

May, I cried because I felt you might’ve just thrown me away
before you embarked on the ship to arrive in Egypt with your family.
Did you leave me 
flying free, a little bright yellow canary, 
lost in the forests of Lebanon,
longing for you and home and you?
Had I died before you?

Sometimes I wish to see you.
We both are women now anyway.
Yet I’d rather keep you safe in heaven
with patience in my lifetime
than if I’d had the choice 
to shake you from eternal peace
just for my own wish to see you—
That wouldn’t do.

May, I give away flowers from the earth pressed in the pages of a book.
I remember reading about the first flower you gave away,
and it sounded to me like the girl had trampled it under her foot
on her way—
Had I followed the scent of that flower of which
no shoe could eschew
the fragrance of that
crushed flower 
that lead me again 
to you?

I don’t care what I cannot remember
or for what I have no proof:
as I eat my cereal with almond milk,
the scent of the sweetened wheat flakes
makes me laugh inwardly as I
remember this whole story of a bird, and I don’t
Care whether the bird was me then or not:
I’m satisfied, with love that chose to lace the words

that formed this poem that fell from my lips
into whichever language,
into whichever hands, 
it happened to fall.

—Jade Nicole Beals

Apr. 7, 2022


The ringtone I didn't purposely put in—my mom was calling on the phone, to thank me about a gift I'd sent her in the mail that just arrived then, and so it was the perfect way to end this poem!

I also found the painting this morning by Franz Marc to accompany my poem, which I had written and completed last night.

From May Ziadeh’s Will I Transcribed from Documentary I’d Found Months After I’d First Read Her Poetry: 

3 Oct. 1935

I am writing today Thursday, the 3rd of October; I’ve checked my printed papers and have discovered that many of them have been stolen. They’ve left me several letters that were attached to newspapers containing articles and letters—they are useless without the context. 

I love you Egypt. I love you the East; my soul is yours. I love the West as well. I love humanity in its true meaning. I have compassion for its mistakes and pain. And I believe in God.

I hope that someone will be fair to me after my death and extract from my humble writings the spirit of sincerity, honesty, friendship, and enthusiasm, for all that is good and beautiful, because it is so, and not out of a desire to benefit from it.

—May Ziadeh (1935)

Back story:  From Sky to Earth and Earth to Sky, So Little Distance

7 responses to ““I Wondered if I Had Been a Bird””

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