The Conference of the Birds

Holy God.  There has been so much going on in life and in my catalog of observations that I do not even know where to start.  When I write, I generally try to get into a state of submission and then let whatever it is that needs to come out, come out.

Many years ago, maybe three?, I was reading a book by Reza Aslan, No god but God:  the Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, and before you get impressed or think I am some kind of gravitas intellectual, let me tell you that, like with most books, I retained almost nothing.  It is not the book or the author’s fault.  The book is comprehensive and excellently written, ground-breaking and eye-opening for the Christianized folk like myself, and I do remember a few key stories, some of which I may (or may not) share with you in this blog tonight.

And I just used gravitas as an adjective.  That’s right.  I can do whatever I want in my own blog, so to my Shakespeare TA in undergrad who smirked at me for non-regulation use of parts of speech:  you can now go fuck yourself.  Of course, I don’t really mean that, I just felt like saying it.

Reza Aslan. Surprisingly young and super hot. Here's a review of his book; I hope you want to check it out:

About ten, maybe twelve?, years ago, I was driving from Greenville to Rocky Mount, NC, and I was listening to an NPR interview with Twyla Tharp.  I think perhaps this was around the time she was choreographing the Billy Joel musical (or Tharp! ..?), which is why she was back in the news, and, again, I remember almost nothing of the interview except that the interviewer brought up the fact that in a prior interview, Tharp had referred to herself as an “opportunistic artist.”

Can you explain? the interviewer asked.  [No, I don’t think it was Terry Gross. If you can find the interview, let me know.]

Well, Tharp replied, she, too, rarely retained anything.  What her life was like, she explained, was that she came across information, pictures, images, soundbytes, conversations, movies, artwork, other dance pieces, etc etc and would snatch up a crumb or bit or snippet or scrap of it in her mind.  Why that particular crumb or snatch or snippet she never knew…she only knew that later on that particular crumb, snatch, snippet would inspire or be a key stone or serve some kind of purpose in a dance she would create.  “That’s what I mean by opportunistic,” she said.  Everything as it existed in the world could be used to create her art.

I must be the same way because I otherwise can’t explain why my absorb-throttle is constantly wide open and yet the only things that adhere to me are things that must be written about (or danced about) later.

What I remember from No god but God is this way.  Plus, it is more comforting to refer to myself as an “opportunistic artist” than as “scatterbrained” or “intellectually lazy.”

In Aslan’s book, he recounts an ancient Sufi poem about the human journey, titled “The Conference of the Birds.”  This epic poem, written by Persian poet Farid Ud-Din Attar, is about a poet who wakes up one morning to find he has transformed into a hoopoe bird.

The hoopoe bird then holds a conference wherein every single species of bird is represented.  In order to find answers to their troubled world, their troubled selves, they must find Simorgh, the true king.  A flock of these birds decides to make the journey, and many of them do not make it, either because of their own resistance or because they perish along the way.  It is, after all, a perilous undertaking to find the true king.  This much we know.

At the end, the remaining birds who have managed to endure do, in fact, find Simorgh.  In their own reflection.  He is them, and they are he.  The simorgh, the Great King, or “phoenix” by Iranian thinking (as the internet tells me) is what they see after they have endured the search for truth.  The birds find what they were looking for–in themselves.  At the end of the journey, the conference of the birds IS what it’s looking for.  The ones who make it through are the ones who get to apprehend the knowledge that the truth, the Great King, is within them.  And outside of them.

If you’ve been reading this blog all along, those last two sentences may have rung a bit familiar.  If your powers of retention are equal to mine, then you probably can’t recall much of what you’ve read in these blogs.  But you may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote that in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus reportedly gives away The Answer:  God is inside of us and outside of us, that we are the children of the living father.

The Christian mystics weren’t particularly popular, as evidenced by the suppression of the Gnostic Gospels.  Sufis were also mystics, though, of course, they were Islamic mystics, but it seems to me that everyone who really and truly cares about God and the bigger picture says the same damn thing:  the answer is truth and love and it’s in us and unless we to through the trial of destroying ourselves (read:  “wilderness,” “journey,” “Oz,” “Bodhi tree,” “shortcut through Egypt,” “Hogwarts,” etc etc), we ain’t gonna find it.  And everybody’s got a different epic going on, it’s called your life.  But it seems to me that we’re all going to find the same answer no matter what events transpire.

I’m thinking about this tonight for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I’m working on a novel, and during my periodic scans on the internet for information, I came across a review of Peter Sis’ fantastic new book in which he has translated, ultra-condensed, and illustrated Attar’s epic poem.  Today, when I came home from my pedicure, The Conference of the Birds had arrived from

cover art. the paper inside is exquisite. sturdy and textured. so luxurious, much like Iranian poetry, so I've read. God bless the Iranians for many reasons, especially for their respect of poetry.

Peter Sis. This author photo is, to me, as iconically Czech as Springsteen's album cover of Born in the USA is American.

TGSI. Totally Gratuitous Springsteen Image.

I’d forgotten that the anecdote of “The Conference of the Birds” was one of the few things I remember from Aslan’s book.  Believe it or not, this anecdote and eponymous poem have pecked away quietly but consistently in the back of my mind and now here it is on my writing desk.  Ergo, I must draw the conclusion that the universe needs me to have it for whatever the next step in my epic is to be.  I need it for the novel.  I need it because it reminds me that God shows up in language.  In poetry.  In music.  In me.

In you.

In Peter Sis and Reza Aslan and Bruce Springsteen and my mom.  In Michael and in Cristina and in Jon Anglemyer’s facebook messages to me.

In you.

You.  Yes, you.  Someone is reading this blog right now and you want to believe but you are afraid.  You’re in the flock, person, you’re one of us birds.  I beg you not to perish through resistance or fear but to keep going.  All you find at the end is the truth…you’re the one you find at the end of the journey.  All these people came before us to tell us that, so just keep going.  I don’t know who you are, but you do.  Why else do you think you’re reading this blog right now?  You know it’s you if you’re saying to yourself it’s me, she’s talking to me.  If, instead, you’re saying what is she talking about, then you keep reading, it’s not you.

And, whoever you are for whom this blog is intended, it’s not me talking to you, either.  It’s you.  That’s what’s up.

Well, it looks like this turned out to be our own mini conference of the birds.  I never know where these blogs are going to take me.  Always to the reflection in one way or another.

In Everglades news, that is not at all unrelated, the water is leaving.  Getting shallower.  Drying up.  What this means is that it’s easy fishing out there these days, and I am not shitting you when I tell you the birds are starting to congregate, to amass, to make such extraordinary poetry when they take wing and light up from the estuarine prairie and explode against that endless Everglades sky.

Before I left my teaching job, I sent a work email to a friend of mine and told her, quite self-consciously, that I thought the Everglades was a poem that God wrote.  In it is the truth.  I think that’s why people tried to destroy it.  I don’t know how else to explain it to you except like that.

night night, beloveds.


hoopoe bird

About marlowemoore

I'm a writer, dancer, and naturalist living in the Tampa Bay area.
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2 Responses to The Conference of the Birds

  1. Lovely post, particularly the ending. When we had the Arabesque festival at the KC, one of the exhibits was a calligraphic illustration of Conference of the Birds by Farah Behbehani. It’s amazing how flexible Arabic calligraphy is. The artist really created a birdlike feel using the letter forms. I took a couple of photos:
    Arabesque at the Kennedy Center

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