Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Birds (1963): Tippi Hedren's Response

My poem, The Birds (1963): Tippi Hedren’s Response, was published in Queen's Quarterly recently. Here it is, although the line breaks will be messed up in this medium. I see things I would change now. Well, before my next collection comes out — the editing pen will strike!

The Birds (1963): Tippi Hedren’s Response

I heard you had a thing for blondes,
that you were a control freak, right down
to the Coco Chanel skirts your actresses wore.
But still, I signed.

How could I pass up
working with the brilliant Hitchock?

You assured me the birds
would be mechanical, that once I climbed
those ominous stairs, the camera stalking
voyeuristically, slowly creaked open the door  
to an attic full of rapacious ravens,
ready to swoop and snap and shriek—

I would not be harmed.

Instead, I endured five days of men flinging
frightened creatures at me—seagulls, ravens and crows.
One poor thing,
   scared out of its wits, bit my cheek
   hard, barely missing my eye. Exhausted,

my heart, a pounding bird-song, shriveled and sank.
I slumped to the floor and cried.

The prop men, whose own beefy fingers
were well protected by thick gloves, watched
me, silent, not knowing what to say or how to comfort.
The camera still rolling.

Watch the woman break down,
have her moment.

Real life is stranger than fiction.
For weeks after that shoot, I was in disarray.
The doctor ordered me time away from work, haunted
by nightmares filled with flapping frantic wings.
Much like my character, my mind
altered. I lashed out at unseen dangers.

I should have listened
to the warnings. Never signed. Ruined
after two films. No one would hire me.
You wouldn’t let them. Your contract my gilded cage.
You’d rather pay me not to work than let me go
to someone else. I rebuffed

your advances, and for that, you took revenge.
My career gutted and strung up like a dead bird.

In your film, you made the birds predatory,
gently cooing, all the while gathering like a dark
cloud. They perch in model bird-like behaviour,
seemingly innocent as they grow in numbers, steadily,
behind the scene. Birds with a mind for trouble-
making, stealthily preparing for the next attack.
But those are the birds of nightmares,
the birds you created.

The truth was
they were victims too.
In 1961, Monterey Bay, hundreds of birds battered
themselves into houses,
 the streets littered
with their seizured broken bodies.

Afterwards, scientists confirmed their poisoning.
Domoic acid found in the anchovies and squid they ate.
Mass avian insanity caused by a toxin producing algae
leaked from a faulty septic tank.

But fiction doesn’t care for truth,
only the angle the camera takes. Its slant
makes strong women into children and sexual
casualties. I wish I could smash this glass
from all around me,
break free of this fantastic fear.
Be like those wild birds you filmed—
fluid and fierce.

But that too was a lie.

I watch a cloud of gulls flood across sea-bound waves.
The wind wound and fevered. I envy their flight,
their freedom to go where whirring wings take them.