Balancing Bird Thing

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Object No. TK of 50 — Significant Objects v2

Object No. 14 of 50 — Significant Objects v2

[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Joe Wenderoth, has ended. Original price: $2. Final price: $24.50. Significant Objects will donate the proceeds of this auction to 826 National.]

Up for your consideration is this Antique Icelandic Menstruating Judgment Bird. Early Icelandic Judges used these birds to determine the outcome of all serious arguments. It was also used domestically—with considerably less ceremony—to resolve smaller household arguments. It works like this: in an outdoor space, bricks are stacked—two stacks; between the two stacks, a yarn is pulled tight and secured beneath the top brick on both sides. Next, a Birdman (a native Icelandic priest) tries to balance the Menstruating Judgment Bird on the yarn. If the Bird remains balanced for the next ten seconds (in the Birdman’s head), the Bird has become ripe for Pronouncing Judgment. After ten seconds (in the Birdman’s head), which way the Bird falls decides the argument. All of the Judgment Bird’s verdicts are understood to be completely just. The Birdman is responsible for watching the Bird so long as it is ripe for Pronouncing Judgment. Should a Birdman fail to believably witness the Pronounced Judgment, he is expected to weep for the rest of his life. In domestic situations, those in disagreement must find someone to stand Birdman for them. These pseudo-Birdmen are not held to the same standards as actual ordained Birdmen. If a pseudo-Birdman does not see which way the Bird fell, he has certainly brought some degree of shame down upon his family, and he is replaced on grounds of ineptitude, but he is only expected to weep for a week or so. This is a great item. Scientists have suggested that the peculiarity of the contemporary Icelandic countenance quite probably stems from this practice, and the arbitrary boundaries of power it insists upon without explanation. No one has yet advanced a plausible reason for the bird’s Menstruating quality, except maybe it’s a mature female who is not pregnant.

bird thing face down


Joe Wenderoth is a poet who teaches at UC Davis; his films are on you-tube.

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