I dreamed of a festival of birds on fire

by Mikey Sivak

phoenix-2877486_960_720
CC0 Public Domain

 

The altar fire must always be kept burning ­– It must never go out.
– Leviticus 6:13

 

In some pre-medieval town,
robed supplicants had built a great
scaffold, a steeple made
of wood & bone like
an antenna to god.

The bones of every creature
of the earth & the sea were used,
& the bones of men, women, & children
of every age & race were mingled
in strange ways among the joists,
all tied together with fruiting vines
& flowers & thorny branches
of ziziphus & briar.

At sundown the priests set it ablaze
with flames they had carried down
in a procession of torches from
a great bowl of fire atop
the highest mountain.
Ten-thousand communicants
dropped to their knees
in great circles around
the tower.

Birds of all kinds flocked in
swarms around the burning structure.
Sparrows, kingfishers, mourning
doves & falcons
all formed a great spiral
reaching out beyond the city
to the encompassing
forests and hills as far
as could be seen.

Through the burning pillar
the birds flew in turn, each catching fire
& flying on, each trailing smoke
behind itself like a little
meteor descending.

Pheasants and peacocks,
and all the species of flightless
fowl were released by the faithful
from wooden cages in stone tower
parapets, and these too soared
like gliders through
the monolithic
fire.

There were also pilots
within the ribs of skeletal
DiVinci machines, wooden,
almost birdlike, with wings of papyrus
upon which secret symbols
were inscribed.

There were also balloons
of stitched parchment & vellum, each
raised by a fire of bones in a basket, each orb
inscribed with a codex:
the words of every scripture
of each religion ever written
by men, women, or gods since the start
of time incarnate in all the alphabets
of every language ever
conceived.

Beneath the baskets
long scrolls dangled dancing
like pennants in the hot fire wind,
& upon these were written
endless maths & equations,
calculations of Creation,
each one contradicting
the next.

& as the burning birds flew,
landed in the framework
of the machines, or alighted
atop the great balloons,
these all caught fire too,

Until the airships crashed
to the cobblestone streets
among the shower
of encrusted & smoldering birds,
knocking over structures,
smashing into kiosks,
crushing supplicants
to bits.

Among it all, stray dogs lurked
picking up cooked birds in their teeth,
swallowing them in gulps, & rats scrabbled
from the gutters to nip off the blackened fingertips
of dead pilots. The scaffold burned
on into the night

Until the vines were gone, the bones black
& brittle, & finally it all collapsed, falling
beneath its own weight, bones of every species
plummeting aflame to the cobblestones, bursting
apart in glowing shrapnel, spreading
to everything there

Within the city walls, people kneeling
still as corpses as their cloaks
caught flame, remaining
totally motionless, as they
slowly burned
to charcoal.

Vultures
& ravens
that had not flown
through the fire but circled
high above the smoke & flames
in the cold clear air among the night stars,
waited & watched with hungry
black eyes for the feast
to finally
cool.

 

 

Mikey Sivak is a writer and visual artist from New Haven, Connecticut. http://mykls.tumblr.com/

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