"Ode for the birds"

in Arlington Literary Journal

Since Liberace’s guest appearance on The Muppet Show in Season 3 is an ode to birds, for his muppoem, I decided to write an ode too.

& I originally planned to write a full-on praise poem as most odes are. My grandmother and mother both shared their love for birds and their cheerful music with me when I was young. I also love how the males of most species are extremely flamboyant and find the sacred mating rituals they perform to be fascinating. However, I was taking a bath one night, and I thought, I really don’t like this episode of The Muppet Show that much. There are a few times when the Henson team was creative and altered the format of the show, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but generally those episodes aren’t ones I immediately go to for a re-watch, because they don’t have the same immaculate timing and rhythm to the vaudeville variety show. This is one such episode, with Liberace performing a piano concert the entire second half. I thought I ought to stay true to this feeling and use it, because honestly I don’t know anything about birds. That’s how this ode became “for the birds.” 

& To signal my tone from the get-go, I wrote an epigram which read: "this has to be one of my least favorite episodes, though there are many reasons it should not be."  It was meant to be two-fold, obviously referring to the episode of the show, but also raising light of life’s episode where early birds start singing out before the sun even rises.  I should appreciate birds as an alarm clock, but not when that's the hour I'm trying to fall asleep. I also should appreciate the artistry of one of my tribe, Liberace, but taste is tricky, and so I decided to cut it, finding it too distracting.

& I have always been a night owl.  One of the songs that Liberace plays in his concert in this episode is "Nocturne No. 5 in F-sharp Major (Op. 15, no. 2)" by Chopin.  A Nocturne is a form of musical expression inspired by or used to evoke characteristics of the night.  

& I decided to play with “I am,” to “a.m.,” then to “AM,” so as to also play with the capital Ss in the piece. They spell SAM, which is the name of the most popular Muppet bird on The Muppet Show, Sam the Eagle. Sam the Eagle is a blue American bald eagle who is like a right-wing lune, always hilariously trying to maintain an air of dignity on the show. You can also go backwards w/ the capitals another way and spell “MASS,” and reference the church.

& A cardinal is not only bright red, but also the word used to refer to compass direction, and also the word to describe the Prince of the Church. The flamingo, pink, is used to describe the opposite end of the spectrum.  

& The opening number to this episode is Miss Piggy singing the Greek song, “Never on Sunday,” from the 60s film of the same name.  

& Mentor poet, David Groff, told me this poem reminded him of Wallace Steven’s “Sunday Morning.” I told him I had never read it, and he said “that’s fine, that’ll be for a PHD student to put together.” I thought that was the sweetest compliment, and of course I was curious. The following week (on Sunday afternoon) I went to go see a student production of the musical, Hair (by James Rado), at Queens College. While I was waiting for the show to start, I looked up Steven’s poem on my phone and read it. I was amazed and realized I would have to splice in references to it when I got home because the connections were too perfect not to.  Now, when Hair started, I began making even more connections, and I came up with the ending, “My donna Aquarius,” combining the two songs, “Donna,” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in (The Flesh Failures).”  I did this, not only for the combination of Dawn of Aquarius, but also My donna = Madonna, and the musical tackles similar issues brought up in my poem.  Even wilder, after the title song, “Hair,” Margaret Mead sings the song, “My Conviction.”  Here are some of the lyrics that again stunningly connect:

"I would just like to say that it is my conviction

 that longer hair and other flamboyant affectations
 of appearance are nothing more
 than the male's emergence from his drab camouflage into the gaudy plumage
 which is the birthright of his sex. There is a peculiar notion that elegant plumage
 and fine feathers are not proper for the male
 when ac------tually that is the way things are
 in most species."

& When The 5th Dimension, recorded their famous version of “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in (The Flesh Failures),” the instrumental backing was provided by the Wrecking Crew.  In this episode, the Newsman is attacked by a giant wrecking ball.  

& My line about the “burning wrecking ball star,” not only connects with the above stated and the fire element of “3,” but also with the sun star.  No coincidence in the poem it's a Sunday in spring, the beginning of more sunlight.  In this episode, Liberace’s dressing room star is diamond bright and the largest of any other guest star ever! 

& I was watching All in the Family, working on Jean Stapleton’s #51, and in one episode Archie is constantly referring to Mike’s homosexual friend as “a bird.”  I didn’t know that was such a popular slang term in the 70s.

& Birds are a bit of a motif in “3: Red Fire.”  Birds return in Leo Sayer’s episode, and connect here because #59 is about my experiences in the queer underground night world.  Thematically also, birds appear one last time in Leslie Uggam’s episode, and her poem, #72, closes out the book with unresolved issue.


muppoem #53

"Ode for the birds"