Cuckoos in San Francisco

There is a small patch of green outside my door, there are a few trees and bushes. As I walked outside to dump the trash, perching on a railing I saw a cuckoo, his brown head tilting as he considered staying or flying away. It is the first bird I have seen in over six months that was not a pigeon. I stood there, with the San Franciscan afternoon haze settling fast over the streetlife and drawing an end to a day that barely felt as if it had begun, and wanted to fly away with him.

I have never been down to Joshua Tree National park, I have only seen in photos that place where Gram Parsons was given an rock and roll send off in an ad hoc cremation after his body was poached by his friends Kaufman and Martin. Parsons and Kaufman had attended Clarence White’s funeral earlier that year, after Clarence who had been in the Byrds, had been struck and killed by a drunk driver. After they had sung Farther Along as the casket was lowered, Parsons told his friend not to “let that happen to me,” and asked to be cremated and his ashes scattered in Joshua Tree National Park. So the story goes, Kaufman stole the body, poured five gallons of gasoline into the casket and partially cremated his friend. If I ever make such extravagant requests please feel free to ignore me. I would however like to follow that bird to where ever he was going.

I had a flight of fancy the cuckoo was off to Joshua Tree to call cuckoo on spring time and see the trees before they all disappear. I have a fear of summer fires. After last year when I was trapped on the coast, fires to all sides of us, our little patch of forest sitting mostly unharmed, but ashes falling from the heavens, the sky a dark threatening orange, no air to be had, just a thick smoky haze that settled deep in your lungs, I am wary of the new routine of forest fires.

The cuckoo flew away without calling Time on spring, and I went back indoors. Out the other window the drugged out denizens of tent city yulped and screeched through the afternoon fog, calling out time on their own inner clocks that tell them it is time again for another rock, another bag, another trick, another trudge up the street and down again, lives in their hands wishing somewhere deep inside that it was all worth more, that they too could grab onto a cuckoo’s wing and fly fly away.

Back inside the tv blares out that the Yankees have got out of the inning safely. I register a small amount of happiness at Higashioka’s two run jack, my guitar sits on my bed, the capo playing hide and seek again. I do not want to go outside.

I listen to Nirvana Unplugged, Kurt is singing about the next plateau, “some say it’s in Greenland, some say Mexico,” He is right about one thing, they wouldn’t help you find it if they could. The cuckoo is fickle, he is Chaucer’s lewd bird, Wordsworth’s wanderer, Shakespeare’s baby bird, that raised by the hedge sparrow bites the head off the bird that feeds him. “Nothing on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds” sings Kurt, the Meat Puppets that wrote the song behind him as he sits plaintive and naked without his guitar. I wonder if the book of birds tells you what happens when you see a cuckoo in San Francisco? Does it bring good news? Does it bring flight, travel, or is it the harbinger of bad news, transformation, death, movement?

I hope my San Franciscan cuckoo finds a soft nest to lay it’s eggs in, it is a wanderer, a traveler, an imposter, a fellow skipper between nests, finding itself homeless in the T.L, lost for a moment before it finds more fertile ground.

Leave a Reply