MARS in Vivo
Mars, the two-inch Tyrannousaurus Rex who lived in a birdcage under the protection of Aad de Gids for about as long as a finch ever lives, has died. Though his tiny body was restrained, his voice filled the Netherlands apartment with demands, commands, and warnings for anyone who disobeyed. Aad said until the last, Mars was shouting, “I am the boss and I am the boss.”
Death was not unexpected. The General had had an arthritic leg for quite a while, stretching it up high by grasping the wire bars to relieve the aching. Aad, who is a nurse in his professional life, slipped a bit of paracetamol (aspirin) into his birdseed but then realized that the ferocious little creature was eating mostly millet on the twig, so the delivery system had to be dusting the millet. The other birds, a gentle lot in other cages where they were safe, declined to be obedient and went about their own pursuits, but did not oppose their belligerent companion. Neville, in particular, was observant but not participatory. He is a composed and noble bird with a gentle eye.
They say that birds are the surviving evolved remnants of dinosaurs, which is easier to believe if you’ve ever had anything to do with an ostrich. “They” also claim the birds’ wings for angels, which is a bit more of an imaginal stretch. (The devil’s wings, they say, are leathern like bats. The devil, who may or may not have a penchant for fruit, will carry diseases more insidious and deadly than ebola -- killers like cigarettes and fast driving.) Angels are also supposed to sing. I have no idea where the harps came from.
Quite a few theologians have had a fondness for birds, maybe because of flights of fancy, like the idea that God lives in the sky. But Darwin is sometimes thought to have based his understanding of evolutionary morphing on the beaks of finches, which specialized in the Galapagos Islands according to their feeding habits: growing longer or thicker or more pointed according to the task of the food at hand. (Now DNA and so on suggests that Darwin’s finches are really tanagers. As much surprise identity as a soap opera.), Przewalski’s “rosefinch” (Urocynchramus pylzowi) is now classified as a distinct family with no particularly close relatives among the Passeroidea. Colonel Przewalski “has” a horse, too. No relations to the horse among the birds, but it’s a very interesting horse.
Rocky Mountain canary
A finch is a seed-eating songbird and therefore a good cage bird since it doesn’t need gobbets of flesh like a shrike or a whole gopher like our pet eagle. Granted, they tend to throw their seeds around, mostly out of the cage like a child experimenting with the behavior of toys in relation to gravity, but seeds are easy to sweep or vacuum. Some finches eat bugs which is a good thing and the Hawaiian honeycreeper, which has a nose like a hummingbird except that it droops, eats nectar. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but how could it be bad?
There’s also a band named “Finch” which is said to be “American post-hardcore” but I have no idea what that implies in terms of their eating habits. I gather the band is also defunct. I went to their website and listened to about five seconds of it but it’s not my cup of tea. In fact, it’s loud enough to knock your tea out of your cup.
From Wikipedia, which does not attribute its authors nor pay them either, so you’ll just have to trust that this is accurate: “A passerine is any bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. A notable feature of passerines is the arrangement of their toes (three pointing forward and one back) which facilitates perching. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines form one of the most diverse terrestrial vertebrate orders, with over 5,000 identified species. It has roughly twice as many species as the largest of the mammal orders, the Rodentia. It contains more than 110 families, the second-most of any order of tetrapods (after Squamata, the scaled reptiles).” Take that, rat!
I had thought Squamata was an early Native American figure, but I guess that was Squanto. I also thought scales were different from skin and that skin had squamous cells which are only scaly in dry winter weather. I am not used to thinking of a canary as a tetrapod, but it’s POD, not PED. I guess wings count as pods, though not seed pods which passerines like to eat. Science is always full of surprises.
The biggest passerine is the raven. But that doesn’t answer the question of why a tetrapod is also tetra-toed? Or why are humans penta-toed? Why aren’t our big toes -- like dewclaws on animals -- on our ankles? An unidentifiable finch fossil from the Messianian age, around 12 to 7.3 million years ago during the Late Miocene subepoch, has been found at Polgardi in Hungary. It was of no help with these questions.
Wiki: “The larger order of passarines is divided into three suborders, Tyranni (suboscines), Passeri(oscines), and the basal Acanthisitti. Oscines have the best control of their syrinx muscles among birds, producing a wide range of songs and other vocalizations (though some of them, such as the crows. do not sound musical to human beings); some, such as the lyrebird (Aha! Lyres are harps!), are accomplished imitators. The acanthisittids or New Zealand wrens are tiny birds restricted to New Zealand, at least in modern times; they were long placed in Passeri; their taxonomic position is uncertain, although they seem to be a distinct and very ancient group.”
Mythology is less surprising since it’s more controlled by human minds. Mars is a planet, because it is blood red (though it’s really just kind of rusty). The Hawaiian Honeycreeper is blood red but drinks nectar, which is Olympian of it. There is a group of finches called “Tyranni” and though no scientist would agree, it was clear to Aad that this was where Mars’ ego came from. He believed himself to be the God of War, a Kingbird (which is also a passserine) who issues orders to all within his space. As for the mere human, Aad, he was only a slave who did the dirty basics at the bottom of the bird cage. There is no god of bird poop, unless one counts St. Cloaca.
“In classical mythology, Syrinx was a nymph and a follower of Artemis, known for her
chastity. Pursued by the amorous Greek god Pan, she ran to a river's edge and asked for assistance from the river nymphs. In answer, she was transformed into hollow water reeds that made a haunting sound when the god's frustrated breath blew across them. Pan cut the reeds to fashion the first set of pan pipes which were thenceforth known as syrinx. The word syringe was derived from this word.” And so the molecules of drugs become songs in our blood and thus the followers of Artemis convert to Venus and the river creatures play the jazz saxophone.
Mars is a Mediterranean god, but maybe because Mars was living in the Netherlands, I keep imagining his funeral as a Norse floating pyre, a small boat with a small feathered body, heaped with flowers and set on fire to float out to sea. We could play a CD of Wagner and Valkyries will storm across the sky. Poor Aad is heart-broken. The secret of his bond with Mars is from Freudian mythology: the teeny bird was just like Aad’s formidable and ferocious mother who protected and attacked him by turns.
A small respectable funeral. Neville approved.
november rose your hue is silent petaled red intensely brilliant
there has been a choice of stilled perfumery, the imagination alone
now your radiative presentationism gives off an almost cosmic absence
whilst the rose has bloomed in midst of November a single vignette
of what could have only been alarmist, interferential extraversion
emphasized this, by the tremendous quietude of your two neighbours as
if they long to say in this sacral cocoonal nothing you're missing, so
MARS is now nowhere, his grave chosen beneath a stately November rose.
It started to rain somehow as yesterday already were a day of downpour
when I dug your little grave Nov.13th. You lay demurely in your box
circumsurrounded suddenly by the pitblack earth the flight hampered.
Now yet you flew with the audible volume of a fucking stork while for
"flight" you chose "fight", as kees still looked like the little waxen
candle I lit and asked him if he also found this beautiful, tilting
his head to the candle. Your message however was always clear: go fuck
yourself. Grateful i was able to sing for you the evening Nov. 12th.
-- Aad de Gids
Kees (different attitude than Mars)
photos by Bas, Aad's twin