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Living In a World of Symbols

With Adriano Bulla
Part 12

Adriano Bulla
Birds are a leitmotif in your poems; what is their symbolic meaning, what ways of understanding experience do they open to the reader? Birds were also highly symbolical in Egyptian art, is there a relation?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
I guess you could say that birds predominate a lot of my work. That's because birds have a duality to their nature that resonates within highly symbolic contexts. On the one hand, birds belong to the the heavens, because they fly, and their wings are the epitome of freedom in movement. But birds also have a connection to the earth because they nest in trees and hunt for food on the ground. So, there is this strong heavenly connotation to them, paired with this sense of complete freedom from any material restrictions; and then this airy symbolism gives way to the idea of return to the earth, making a place in the terrestrial element. These are themes I like to explore from a symbolic vantage, which many of my poems do, and in every instance, there is a deeply spiritual meaning being conveyed.

 In "Pelican" I use this bird as a solar symbol, a symbol of light being able to cross distances; as in the pelican crossing the ocean, and the pelican carrying the sun in his mouth. The ocean here represents something challenging and primordial, the past and all its memories churning like waves. The pelican is not daunted by having to cross long distances in order to find sustenance, and he is the hero of this poem. He represents immortality and a renewal of strength in the face of adversity. He is a hardy creature, able to endure the cold wind over the ocean and its spray. All the while, his big yellow-orange bill embodies a profusion of solar energy and sunlight, which will eventually cut through any turbulent conditions over the sea.

One of my latest poems, "Flight of the Jabiru", uses bird symbolism in the most metaphysical way of all my recent work. This is about the Saddlebill Stork, which was used by the ancient Egyptians as an emblem of the ba, somewhat equivalent to our understand of the soul or spirit. The ba has the ability to pass between the material and physical worlds, to go from physical into spiritual matter, and back again. It is one of the vital aspects of a person's soul anatomy, and may even be understood in terms of embodying a person's actual personality or unique identity. At the time of death, the ba exits the body and departs to the duat or spirit realm, the realm of the Gods and the dead. But the ba has to power to return to the material world, to even make a sort of contact with the living.

In "Flight of the Jabiru" I use this bird in a Kemetic or ancient Egyptian context, as an embodiment of the soul and a symbol of the dead being released from the body as a living spirit. At the beginning of the poem the jabiru is a symbol of the Sun-God, of the quality of solar light of which spirits are composed. We find that the jabiru is a sort of messenger of death, because the flight of the jabiru means the transmigration of souls from this world into the next. I work with that a lot in my poetry...this phenomenon of death and how it is actually a passage from one state of existence into the next, a progression through forms. So the jabiru represents that progression in my poem, taking on the personality of someone I love who has just died. I am watching that person pass away from me, and then become a transfigured consciousness.

But I describe this too in a way that deals with the emotional reality of death, because that part of death is terrible. It's not beautiful or peaceful. I describe this kind of suffering as the wings of the jabiru disturbing my sense of personal peace, because their presence signals the death of my loved one, like a stone being thrown into the middle of calm water. There is a disruption of the calm order of things, an emotional brutality that occurs. But I have to deal with this loss, and my poem is a form of saying that I can accept it, because I also accept that spiritual immortality is a fact of after death, the consciousness continues.

The jabiru is a picture for us of spiritual consciousness, which is vital and awake and brilliant to behold. It is a streak of sunlight in the darkness, and speaks to the reader of a form of guidance that ultimately conquers death. I guess that's the heart of this poem. It's a message that tells us of the reality of letting go of things we love, this fact of impermanence that dominates physical life. But that life continues to change and evolve, and this evolution process passes through the death state as just another aspect of the life cycle, prior to the renewal of consciousness. Immortality is the ultimate theme of this poem, like so many of my poems...but also my icons, I must say. At the end of the day, I believe in immortality, and my icons and poems will continue to speak in my voice long after I too have followed in the wake of the jabiru.

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