The Rainbird

No. 27, March, 1976

The Rainbird

Good morning. The sky is spotless, lit by the exploding blossom of the sun. As yet the sky is unmarked by the blurred wake of birds' wings, or a wind playing with its treasures of stick, feather and leaf. Not a cloud puffs along the horizon nor hangs falcon-still in the crossbeams of the heavens. The upper arms of trees decorate one blue margin with scrolls and curls of green. A river catches small petals of sunlight and bears them into the shadows of bank and stone where the sparkle leaves the water's face.

Into this day walks the saint Kabir. Into this day flies the rainbird, amongst tall grasses, not daring to stain the sky with her slow, erratic flight.

The rainbird, collector of rare liquids, eater of raindrops. Made for a singular and unsure diet, the rainbird waits like a patient farmer to reap the storm-cloud's crop of tears. Faithful only to this falling water, she flies up like a dart into a field of crystal spheres and picks them whole from the greying sky, while God scores up a rainbow to her virtuosity. Not even in a moment's idleness will the rainbird fold back her wings and lance the raindrop into a million crystal eyes, to splash across her brilliant plumage. Somehow none touch her back or arrowtuft tail. She catches each drop as if it were her last. Into this day she flies, and it has not rained for a week.

Out of his house and into this day strolls the saint Kabir, a little early from his morning meditation. Who wants to sit in a dark room when the sun shouts hosanna to the sky, when all nature embraces itself and calls every good soul to the dance? God is everywhere, no doubt, hums Kabir as he sweeps the dusty path with the hem of his garment, perhaps I'll find Him in the fields today.

He hears the river laughing, master ventriloquist of a thousand small voices. He is charmed by the party the ripples and waves must be having, and cuts across field, bound for the liquid conversation. Near his footsteps, crickets and frogs rehearse the evening concert, rustles betray mice in mid-harvest.

Dividing the tall grasses and the river reeds, a short thatch of grass hugs the earth, alive with an emerald light borrowed from the sun's first sheen. There Kabir kneels, and cups his hands into the cool river. He sits back smiling, his face dripping water.

As he settles into a stare at wet light on worn stone, the grasses of the opposite bank whisper and rustle. The rainbird bursts out to land on a thin bough overhanging the river. The bough bends low and she sits a metre above the endless flow of water. Kabir looks on in wonder. Her beautiful feathers are as dull as tarnished metal, her clawgrip is feeble, her head droops. Only her eyes shine round and bright like her love the raindrop, but it is sure that if no cloud breaks today her beak will have threaded the last bead of life into the garland of her throat.

In the silence that follows the quick fold of her wings, in the hush of Kabir's captured attention, she falls. The river receives her without a splash and she rides the water on her back, her beak shut fiercely in a single yearning for raindrops. She does not drown, but death comes in the midst of abundant life. The river water and the rainbird never meet.

Kabir sees with a sadness and a sudden wisdom. He sees purity and devotion float by, helpless yet untouched, alone but above loneliness. He sees something beautiful out of reach and longs for it. Kabir leaves the river, leaves the fields, the dusty path, the blue sky, the bright sun, the glorious day. He returns to a dark room in a small house. He leads his mind into the country of the heart where his Master walks the mountains of light, and merges with God.