Review by Elsie Ohem
The New Madrid’s Journal of Contemporary Literature features creative works, essays, and creative non-fiction pieces from across the country. One piece in particular, Amelia Bird’s “Acts of Wind,” truly spoke to the Winter 2014 issue’s theme “The Great Hunger.”
According to New Madrid, the theme “The Great Hunger” is keeping in line with the collective trauma of Gorta Mór, “the great famine that occurred in Ireland between 1845 and 1852.” This issue showcases “hunger” in many different forms and contexts—themes that are reflected in Bird’s piece. Her essay explores different viewpoints of loss found within life and death by rediscovering wonder, appreciation, and life lessons. By uncovering reoccurring patterns within her daily life, and with the aid of nature, Bird rediscovers what it means to be a part of something larger than she can ever imagine.
While Bird’s topic isn’t new, her presentation on death, or finding the meaning of life, is written in a creative non-fiction way through the rhetorical mode of narrative discourse. Narrative discourse, also known as a “story,” is a form of writing that highlights sequential events through a particular point of view. In this case, Bird’s essay is self-reflective and deeply personal. Throughout her essay, Bird uses nature as a way of understanding the place one has in life. Moreover, nature, for Bird, is a sequential process whose movement drives the juxtaposition of life and death. Ultimately, understanding the place one has in life also leads one to understand the place they have in death.
Bird’s construction of her essay infiltrates a zone of ambivalence, specifically when she is attempting to understand the place one has in life’s process. This is most apparent when she reflects on the trees in her neighborhood:
With my car at the mechanic’s for the month, I biked in the cold. In the leafless half of the year, rotten branches and healthy branches looked the same. I couldn’t believe that most of the trees were alive because none of them seemed to be. I imagined the spring coming finally: the grass would turn vibrant but the trees would stay gray and bare forever because they had all secretly and soundlessly died in a snowstorm. I was surprised in the spring at the buds and the sprouting. The growth made the sticks I hadn’t realized I’d grown used to disappear completely, and it occurs to me that there’s always something to mourn.
A repeated metaphor of dying trees only furthers the interconnection one has with life and death. Bird’s reference to tree trimmers adds to the procedural element found within a world surrounded by the life and death of many things:
The men, before they touched the tree with a chainsaw, stood around it in a circle, looking up, talking. One pointed to a few branches, the others nodded, and then it was set; the tree would come down in that order.
This quote beautifully captures the juxtaposition of change, loss, and the transformative process of life by setting up the tree trimmer as the agent of death; death, in that his machines and his decisions decide when and how the tree will end its life. Moreover, the role of life and death is further understood as having multiple facades, being that life and death is both purposeful and accidental. Furthermore, the tree becomes the door in which she understands the role nature has in the part of life and death. The tree, in this sense, transforms into the object representative of all living beings; they are all interconnected. This interconnection, therefore, is largely based on death:
After the trimmers left, I stood there looking at the new view from my window. Having lost two trees in a matter of weeks, I found that getting used to my clear horizon was a process like many others. Planned or sudden, fully leafed or bare—all losses result in a slight opening of sky and perhaps a new view to someone’s backyard I hadn’t thought much about before.
Ultimately, Bird’s lesson is one of acceptance and, perhaps, one of wonder. Her relaxing impression on the process of life narrates a story that illustrates how she comes to terms with change, loss, and the transformative process of life which, in her case, makes her story a refreshing and comfortable read.
Amelia Bird is a book artist, writer, and educator living in New Orleans. She is active in SIFT (sequence, image, form, text), teaches experimental letterpress at Women’s Studio Workshop, and co-manages the letterpress shop in Glassworks. Her books can be found in a growing number of libraries and private collections.