The Cormorant Dreaming In Chicago Of Monsters

The First Radiant Seabird

The First Radiant Seabird

A big one, about a mythic and misunderstood bird. This is a new one– much bigger than the others– about 18 by 24 inches. It is about a mythic Cormorant, several species of fishing birds that are found all over the world.

In some cultures they are revered and in others they are loathed and said to be in league with the devil. In Japan there is a centuries old tradition of fishing with these birds–man and bird fishing together. In upstate New York, commercial fisherman have gone on a tear slaughtering whole colonies of these birds because they compete for fish. Their slaughter of the Cormorants brings to mind the pigeon shoots that wiped out the passenger pigeon over a century ago.

Cormorants are a much misunderstood bird largely due to english literature like Shakespeare and Milton which characterize them as evil.

They are amazing underwater acrobats that can dive 400 feet for their dinner. All in all a fascinating bird and the subject of a new book by Richard J. King called “The Devil’s Cormorant” which covers the natural history of these birds over several continents and cultures. Well worth a read.

Published in: on November 20, 2015 at 10:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Small Bird of the Sacred Heart

I will see you in the flowers of the next world

I will see you in the flowers of the next world

So Long Joe…

Published in: on November 20, 2015 at 9:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Messenger

The Messenger

Published in: on November 3, 2015 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Mysteries Of Juarez

The Mysteries of Juarez

Shortly before his death in 2004, Roberto Bolaño, the great Chilean novelist, mailed off the manuscript for 2666, his sprawling, frustrating, multi-layered masterpiece about a world coming apart in many locations and time periods– all at the same time.

Central to this story–stories, actually–are the murders of women in the fictional St. Teresa, which is actually Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Authorities fear there may be as many as 5000 unsolved murders of young women and admit that there are at least 1200. The Mexican government blames the outlaw Narco-Mafias, as well as members of Los Rebeldes, a notorious Juarez street gang involved in drug and human trafficking. Police have also arrested itinerant workers and bus drivers known to drive the routes where some of the women’s bodies have been found, all to no avail. The murders continue as well as an eerie proliferation of corridos, or “murder ballads;” songs circulated about killings of unfaithful lovers, hookers and “bitches.” It is a horrifying phenomenon that has been going on since around 1993, with the indifference or incompetence of police forces too afraid of the gangs to adequately protect the young women, mostly from other parts of Mexico and Central America.

What resonates from all of the conflicting stories are ugly tales of sexual mutilation and violence accompanying each murder. Rape is almost always a component of these crimes. Bodies are found in vacant lots and trash dumps as well as by the sides of the roads. What is shocking is the cavalier nature of this brutality. Women are murdered routinely and with impunity, with no fear of consequences. At the center of Bolaño’s messy novel is the idea that someone or something in the air suggests these are “sacrifices” for a world devolved into a degenerate state. There are lots of other ideas ventured as well, but the sickness at the center of the world’s heart is never more acutely rendered in this novel than the murders of these women. That it is based in concrete fact gives the novel a chilling moral authority.

Before Bolaño died and his novels were published, he traveled widely throughout Mexico and South America and Spain for a time, embracing Marxism and then abandoning it, all the while bearing witness to down-at-the-heels governments unable (and in many cases unwilling) to help those they govern. He seems to have adopted a mordant gallows humor about the condition of mankind.

I’ve read 2666 once and am trying to re-read it now. It is a long-haul work of literature. I’m not now convinced this was ever supposed to be ONE book. It’s always felt to me like a combination of books. That Bolaño died before this book was ever in galleys tells us that he was not the final voice in deciding what exactly went into this book. Of course, once 2666 was published, the posthumous Bolaño became a critical fetish-object; the praise being hurled from every quarter, for this door-stop tome full of digressions, contradictions and multiple stories; some having very little or even nothing to do with the others.

The underlying thematic device, for me, seems to be the world’s rapid untethering from any idea of sanity. The murdered women part of 2666 is where we hear Bolaño at his most ferocious. the murder of innocents is still a thing of incomprehensible sadness; well-worthy of moral outrage even in an insane world.

I’ve heard people describe this book as “apocolyptic” or “millennial,” whatever the fuck that means. I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure about anything with 2666–even as to whether it was completed or not. Oddly enough though, I was convinced I’d read a great book–in fact, a great few books.

I love the literature of Mexico and South and Central America. As a young man, I felt as though books like Eduardo Galleano’s Genesis: Memory of Fire and Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude kind of set me free with their magic and their shape-shifting. In a lot of Mexican-Indian cultures, birds like sparrows, starlings and blackbirds are interlopers between worlds, often carrying the spirits of the dead from this world to the next, or in Haitian literature, to the “gray world”–a kind of way station between the living and the dead. These authors and those stories warned us that the natural world stood witness to our evil and our folly; that in daylight or in darkness, to some living entity, we are always visible. This thought used to give me comfort. And now, I am not so sure.

The ongoing murders of women in Juarez are still largely unsolved. There have been many arrests for individual murders but better than 99 percent of them are still without resolution. Ciudad Juarez, in fact the whole state of Chihuahua and its governing body, stand as a black mark on the earth; unholy ground marked evil by its own inaction.

This Bird is an Altamira oriole– it is found all along the Mexico-U.S. border…

Published in: on October 5, 2015 at 10:09 pm  Comments (1)  

Gawker Bird in the Garden of Dying Stars

Gawker Bird in the Garden of Dying Stars

The sun murmured stories
and hid them in her wings

Published in: on July 17, 2015 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The Nuthatch Driven Mad by Music

She sings arias from dead trees

She sings arias from dead trees

Published in: on July 3, 2015 at 1:08 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

The Holy Birds…The Guardians of Montrose Harbor

She makes of a dervish of the breeze

She makes of a dervish of the breeze

Published in: on June 23, 2015 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

The Magic Catbird

A catbird frightened by the old whispers of a new century.

A catbird frightened by the old whispers of a new century.

Published in: on June 19, 2015 at 9:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Stone Killer

Stone KillerStone Killer, All Day… The Watchman of Juarez…

This is a hooded crow, which is found nowhere near Juarez. I just loved the hungry look of this scavenger bird. I’ve written a lot about Juarez and Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 which is, in part, about the epidemic of murder on the border. This piece is about the nearly 500 unsolved murders of women that occurred there.

It is said that the land itself possesses a memory. . . “el gente“– the Mexicans call it.

This piece is a bit about this idea.

Published in: on June 1, 2015 at 11:06 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Basurero de Juarez

Basurero de Juarez

Basurero de Juarez

The great Charles Bowden passed away last year. He wrote a great many articles and books about the border; the one we share with Mexico. In the years since NAFTA passed there have been hundred upon hundreds of women murdered in and around Juarez–a great many of them maquiladora workers. A maquiladora is an assembly plant, or factory which hired thousands of women and paid them stoop labor wages to do piecework–sewing, circuit boards, and other close work that required small, deft hands.

A great many women from as far away as Central America flocked to the border for jobs. So NAFTA managed to impoverish two cultures. The women of the maquiladora plants and the American union worker, and some big American companies outsourced jobs here to avoid paying a living wage to union workers: Levi’s, Motorola, IBM, Black & Decker, GM, Cooper Tire, among others.

The murders started after the flood of new workers settled in and around Juarez. The powerful and ruthless Juarez cartel was blamed, as well as gangs like Los Rebeldes and La Linea Juarez. Bowden’s books, The Blood Orchid and Murder City; Ciudad Juarez, are visceral, heart-breaking testaments to a world where sanity has unraveled at a frightening pace. Still the murders are unsolved. One wonders what would happen if hundreds of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Suzy cream-cheese types were slaughtered and left for carrion birds in the desert.  The cable series, The Bridge, did a brilliant job underlining the insanity of the drug war and the culture of death endemic to both sides of the border; where traffic in drugs, humans, and cheap labor have created a culture of nihilism and despair.

It almost certainly had to be based on some of Bowden’s writings, which were poetic, and hard to read, as they were blanched of hope. This piece is about this part of the world: The border that we share and the trust we do not.

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 11:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Bird for the Daughters of Juarez

Bird for the Daughters of Juarez

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 11:07 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

Peregrine Falcon of Chicago

Peregrine Falcon of ChicagoThirty years ago, Peregrine falcons were among the most endangered of species. DDT and other pesticides did near-irreparable damage to their population. Luckily, the Cornell breeding project, conservation-minded falconers, and the the government joined forces in a “perfect storm” of protective measures to save the Peregrine.

It was also discovered that this falcon adapted beautifully to the urban landscape. They nest in the tall buildings all over the city and are fairly surrounded by an endless supply of pigeons to feast upon.

I watched this first hand one day. I was walking across Daley Plaza when I saw an explosion of feathers about fifty feet over my head. It looked like a pillow had exploded. The luckless pigeon dropped to the plaza and the Peregrine had spread her wings over her kill and proceeded to chow down on some squab. Pedestrians gave her a wide berth; some stopped to watch quietly, grateful they’d not been born a pigeon. I noticed all of the other pigeons got the fuck out of the plaza in a big hurry and nobody got within 20 feet of her while she ate.

What had happened was the falcon spotted her dinner and dove from about seven or eight hundred feet at a speed of 165 miles per hour and hit this poor bastard with her breast bone. The rock dove never knew what hit him. It would be like the gods dropping a boxcar on you.


I’m glad there are peregrines in Chicago. They are damn-near a perfect symbol for our city, in their beauty and cruelty. Chicago is that kind of city; you can hang on the cross, or you can pound in the nails.

Published in: on April 11, 2015 at 12:43 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

The Rite of Spring Bird (The Rocket)

The Rite of Spring Bird (The Rocket)

Boulez’ arm dropped like a falling bird and there was music

Published in: on March 31, 2015 at 11:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The Prize Bull

The Prize BullThe Union Stockyards have been closed since 1971. The century of suffering, human and animal, still bears much historical currency. We are still thought of in literature as “hog butcher of the world.” Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle brought great change in the meat packing industry. Until this great novel, nobody inspected the meat we ate. Six months after The Jungle was published, the U.S.D.A. started inspecting the slaughterhouses and the meat being issued by them. It was a grimy, filthy business. The Armours and Swifts built threadbare shanty-towns for their workers–mostly Czechs, Polish and Ukrainians– and the conditions were so unsanitary, that workers often brought home blood-borne diseases on their clothing and skin. There were no wash stations or showers. At one point the infant mortality rate was so high, one out of three children did not live until his first birthday.

It was a cruel life imposed upon generations of immigrants, all the while building great fortunes for the Armours and Swifts. I write this because I realize this has always been a city of great cruelty…to people, to animals, and somebody always profited from this suffering. It’s a little late in the game to be surprised by this, yet still, I am. This piece is called “The Prize Bull.’ It’s based on a pinata I saw when I was about 7 years old.

Published in: on March 25, 2015 at 2:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Dick Tracy of Chicago


Every Sunday, I waited patiently while my father read the comics. I would not get them until he was finished. When he’d flip the section over to read the back page, I’d get a peek at what I’d been waiting for all week–Dick Tracy…the Sunday color comics. I loved Dick Tracy.  His creator, Chester Gould, lavished much attention on the villains, as if their evil-doing were manifested into their very physicality.

Flat-Top, The Mole, Prune-Face…they were a gallery of grotesques unlike anything else in newspaper comics. Dick Tracy dispensed justice with a Calvinist zeal, shooting bad guys through the head electrocuting them. It was an immensely violent comic for a family newspaper.

As a kid, I drew Dick Tracy obsessively, as well as the villains. I also got to meet Mr. Gould when I was a kid and he was kind and told me to stay away from hippies and long-haired no-goodniks. I told him I would and was sworn in as a crime-stopper.  So I got that going for me. . .

Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 354 other followers

%d bloggers like this: