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preparing for my visit with a dead bird

Well, arrangements have now been made and in August I’ll be heading to Washington, D.C. to spend time with Martha, who was the last surviving passenger pigeon and who is currently on public display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I’m excited and a bit nervous, as I know this is likely the last opportunity I’ll have to spend this kind of in-person and person-to-bird time with Martha. Even with the museum’s carefully controlled conditions, time does have an affect, and once the Smithsonian’s Once There Were Billions: Vanishing Birds of North America exhibition comes down, I wonder if she might be too frail for future outings.

I think it was around twelve or thirteen years ago that Martha first appeared in my work. She entered my practice around the time that I started working on my making sense project which I started to disperse in 2004 and while I was doing some preliminary work for my artist bookwork titled until my body says sleep (Kokyo) which was completed in 2006. There’s connections I feel between Kokyo and the Crane of that bookwork and Martha, the passenger pigeon. There’s a kind of resonance that I sense, there and also in the shared space between them and some of the other works within my ongoing wings walking water project. I’m currently working with some of the interplay that happens between these works and others like the flipbook¬†we be (2008);¬†A Young Girl, a Young Woman, and a Woman Nearing Sixty (2011-2013);¬†a child’s fable (2013); my text walking process and video poems (which started in 2014); and my recent bookwork a frail history: thirteen poems disguised as a passage (2015). And I’m asking myself, what happens when one allows oneself to be in slow conversation with a place, an image, a memory, an existing work, a dead bird? What might be experienced and heard when one engages in an act of listening, not only with one’s ears but also with one’s whole body and with one’s subconscious as well as conscious mind? And what might be understood, created, and shared through such a process?

The opportunity to be there with Martha and to be working from Washington for ten days focusing on themes of loss and beauty, intimacy, remnants, and the resonant found has been made possible through the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, for which I am so grateful.

(Wednesday, May 27th, 2015)

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