“Taking off my turban I bound myself securely to it with the linen in the hope that the roc, when it took flight next morning, would bear me away with it from the desolate island. And this was precisely what did happen. As soon as the dawn appeared the bird rose into the air carrying me up and up till I could no longer see the earth…”
– The Second Voyage of Sinbad
The voyages of Sinbad are now considered separate from the One Thousand and One Nights. Although no longer associated with Scheherazade’s desparate wit and dancing fingers, Sinbad still traveled the same lands. He sailed oceans as smooth as melting silk, sparkling with a filigree of fishes. He traveled through countries writhing with serpents – their mouths dripping with steam and blood, their faces veiled with a diamante of jade and diamonds. He walked on an earth alive with hidden creatures that lived in the twilight skeleton stretching beneath its surface. The sky he turned his face to was gold and lavender, scarlet and amber, turquoise and pink: a reflection of the magic from the roaring constellations above and the magnificent world below.
He rode on the back of a whale, sounding to the bottom of the sea with the water bubbling in his ears. He discovered jeweled valleys and rivers thick with minerals and color. He was menaced by water gods, giants and cannibals.
He felt a giant bird’s talons in his scalp and was lifted far above the stunned, revolving earth. And I think I know how this must have felt.
I was crossing a very unremarkable parking lot, when I felt a pair of tiny claws pulling at my hair. I heard wings fluttering in admonishment – the courageous reprimand of a small, angry creature. The tiny, localized pain reminded me of the voyages that happened long ago – or might not have happened at all. For a blissful, excruciating moment, I closed my eyes.
I closed my eyes, but I still saw – quick blurs and brief vignettes: micro mosaics of quick visions. Beneath my shoes, I saw the rushing city: a grid of highways, homes and trees endeavoring to keep up with me. Colors tangled and twisted, dissolving into an imprecise countryside.
As my tormentor continued its flight, I swayed in the air, a lonely dirigible unseen by the populations below. The currents in the sky were quick and cold, the clouds were like veils sparkling with frost. My skin glistened with the icy fabric.
Close to my ears, the wind galloped, harnessed by direction and the compass of the season. Even now the memory roars in my ears, like the musical ocean that still sings inside a stranded seashell. The colors of the air darkened as we climbed higher; the sky was smeared with dusk as we approached a ceiling of permanent night. Starry horizons beckoned, sprinkled with light.
At that point, however, we began our descent back to earth; back to the pocked black top of the parking lot. When I stood at last on solid ground, it seemed as if I had spent hours journeying through the pale air – but really, barely a second had passed. When I opened my eyes, I finally saw my pilot. It was not roc-sized. It had not a wingspan of acres, talons that curved like sabres or eyes that sparkled like rubies with a thousand facets.
It was a blackbird.
Its feathers glistened with dark, iridescent shadows as it stared at me with radiant, amber eyes. I had not, in fact, traveled anywhere. I did not look down on a distant city. I did not feel the clouds’ thaw, the birth of rain. My feet had remained still and land-locked – the only flight I had gone on was through the endless span of the imagination..