Danny Boy

by Rebecca Bird

“There were three exodi of boys to sea.” A ballad in prose and six animations.

“Danny Boy” was commissioned by Triple Canopy through its 2012 call for proposals as part of the Immaterial Literature project area, which receives support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

WHEN THE WHOLE THING got to be too much, he had to join up. Pushed out by the old man. Pushed out on three occasions. There were three exodi of boys to sea. Three times a boy of the twentieth century left that family: at the beginning, middle, and end.

Strange how easy it was for him to leave. He was full of promise, thus overstepped his authority. It was hard to tell within home’s permissive warmth when something was too far.

He was always leaving familiar foods, a way of talking, of lying by omission. Three times. Returning on leave to find the flavor unchanged; he hadn’t escaped at all.

Her hands are cool and quick. She readies you for the bath. She holds a towel and dries your hair and runs the paste under the tap. A life’s measures civilize.

Some of us who slice the bread are doing so forever. Braille in the doily on the tabletop; meaning in the placement of a hat.

That dress she used to have is still in all the photos.

There was work to do, and breaks between. All the while he tried to memorize the ocean.

He thought of things to say when he saw folks again. There was a lot to do, most of it waiting.

Off deck, battleships like toys. He was alone if he was really in the world.

The sailor woke before he was called, became hungry just at mealtime. This clock was the part that stayed with him.

Seeing the newsreel you can imagine owning the empty sea. It’s wonderful. These are our boys.

The sunlight swept through us and hit the deck, reflecting up under our chins till we were glowing in broad day. I felt like I was made of atoms and had been born that morning.

The explosion. His job was to watch it. He was standing on the deck again, eyes behind dark glasses. Wisecracks from wisecrackers. There, in a second, it happened. But his memory looked like the photograph.

This is how he wakes up in heaven. The trumpet. He is with the others and goes down the hall, pedaling a few feet above the floor. He enters heaven’s mess hall and picks up a tray. The uproar is friendly and the floor tilts. At the front of the line, there is a pound of meat for every man.