Do you remember the Judgement Bird?
Remember? It was in Dublin Zoo. It was a huge thing with dark grey
feathers and deep set eyes that peered straight into your soul. It
usually just stood there with its wings all folded up but when it
extended them it was a sight to behold. The span was enormous, like
some mighty cloak it could wrap you in and you'd never see the sun
again. It was night time under those wings. It was the world before light.
We all made the pilgrimage.
We'd queue up and watch the Judgement Bird as it watched us. Judging
us. Silently calling us to account. Feelings of great guilt would
befall all who looked upon the Judgement Bird. There would be sudden
sobs and confessions. 'I slept with your missus', 'I diverted the
funds', 'I cogged me maths ekker', that sort of thing. Politicians
and various establishment figures seemed reluctant to visit the zoo
around that time. There was even an attempt made on the Judgement
Bird's life but the assassin broke down and took his own life
instead. I heard John Charles McQuaid curled into a ball and rocked
to and fro for four days just after seeing the Judgement Bird on the
There was something in the Judgement
Bird's eyes. Something primeval, something pure and atavistic,
irrefutably authentic and devoid of mercy.
Something that spoke of a world lost to us or perhaps even
rejected by us. The Judgement Bird seemed to be from an angry Eden.
No one actually knew where it was from. It wasn't captured or
anything. It just landed in the monkey enclosure. The monkeys were
quite deferential where it came to the Judgement
Bird and shared their food with it. The zoologists didn't have
a clue what type of bird it was exactly. They guessed it was some
kind of crane or a stork but who knows? It looked a bit like a giant
vulture to me. An ornithologist lost three fingers approaching the
Judgement Bird so it was left alone after that.
Even people who didn't do anything
wrong felt guilty when they met the gaze of the Judgement Bird. They
said that they felt incriminated for behaving themselves in the wrong
way, in the way of man, a corrupted way. 'You are not good', the
Judgement Bird seemed to say to them, 'you are just scared,
obsequious and indoctrinated.' Only very
small children enjoyed visiting the Judgement Bird. Everyone else
dreaded it but felt compelled to return to it again and again. 'It's
like confession', said one visitor, 'only it's God on the other side
of the grille and not some dreary old hypocritical
The day came when the Judgement Bird
took off. First it did a dance of sorts, stretching out its legs,
moving around in a staccato fashion and throwing its head about.
Storm clouds, great and black, gathered above as it performed. Then the Judgement Bird opened its wings and lifted up and soared away. It was swallowed
up by the premature night it had summoned. It never came back.
The Cosgrave government had all footage
of the Judgement Bird immediately destroyed. The only thing rumoured to remain of the Judgement Bird is
a long streak of silver shite it left behind that was smuggled from
the zoo by one of the lads that cleaned out the enclosures. If you
know who to ask, you can get brought to a secret place where you can look
at the Judgement Bird's shite. They say there's a queer smell off the shite and when you
inhale it you're left with the tremendous sensation that we've all
let ourselves down. This sensation is said to be accompanied by
another feeling, a premonition of sorts is how it is described. It's
said that upon smelling the shite of the Judgement Bird you are
possessed with an unnerving certainty that the Judgement Bird will
return and, when that day comes, it will not be alone.
If you look at things close up, really
close up, they cease to be what they seem to be. A person stops being
a person with arms and legs and a torso and a head and becomes a vast
epidermal surface instead. Look even closer and even this
understanding is lost. Closer up than close up, everything becomes an
indivisible hubbub of subatomic particles. We might see a room but
really there is no furniture, no ceiling, no floor, no window and no
door. At the most micro of micro levels the room is all just trashing
static but on our macro level it takes on the illusion of separate
objects. It's like a Monet painting, it's an incomprehensible mess
close up and only makes sense at a distance. This distance from real
reality is the range we operate on. We all know it but we put the
knowledge of the eternal fuzz out of our heads. We operate under a
required interpretation of 'reality' that is actually an illusion. We
pretend that the world is an arrangement of things with contexts. To
approach existence in any other way would drive us crazy.
Are you with me? Do you understand what
I'm saying? Do you agree? You kind of have to agree. You've no
choice. It's the truth. It's reality, really.
The above image is an extract from a
letter written by a German woman called Emma Hauck. Considered
insane, Emma was committed to a mental institution where she lived
out what remained of her life. Emma had lost the ability to see
things on our macro range. All context had broken down for her. She
was being swallowed by the subatomic hiss, the eternal fuzz of what
reality really is. It must have been like sinking in quicksand and
she was calling out to be rescued. She was calling out to the memory
of the thing that gave her life meaning. That thing was love.
On proper examination, you can make out
that Emma wrote the same two words over and over and over again; a
simple phrase in her native language, 'herzensschatzi komm'. It means
'sweetheart come'. Emma's letter was to the father of her two
children. Emma sat and wrote 'sweetheart come' over and over and over
again. The words, the punctuation and the letters merge and end up
looking like the static snow on an old television screen. Did you
know that the snow on old televisions is leftover radiation from the
Big Bang, the Big Bang that created all reality? It is. I'm not sure
if that's relevant but I thought I'd mention it in case it is
relevant. Very relevant. Anyway, Emma wrote a great many letters like
the one pictured above. She sat and wrote them all day. All day,
every day. None Of Emma's letters were ever sent.
Now, I want you to imagine that you're
sitting and listening to static emitting from a receiver of some
sort. I want you to imagine that you are listening out for the voices
of those trapped in Limbo. Imagine you hear the words 'sweetheart
come' repeated over and over, lost amongst the hiss. Imagine you
hear this pleading from a ghost. A ghost trying to communicate to a
memory, a memory of a meaning, a meaning called love.
'Sweetheart come, sweetheart come,
sweetheart come, sweetheart come', over and over in the eternal fuzz.
Oh my. My oh my. Tell me now about this reality. Has it broken
your heart yet?