Song Analysis – “Flightless Bird, American Mouth”- Iron & Wine

[The title mentions a “flightless bird.” Watch for animal words in this song as there are quite a few. A flightless bird has wings and feathers but cannot fly. The reason why they cannot fly is that they have too much mass. Penguins, for instance, are too heavy to fly. Metaphorically, I think a flightless bird would be someone who has lost freedom or who has lost a sense of joy.]

I was a quick wet boy
Diving too deep for coins
All of your street light eyes
Wide on my plastic toys
And when the cops closed the fair
I cut my long baby hair
Stole me a dog-eared map
And called for you everywhere

[There’s a sense of lost innocence in these lines. Being a boy and having plastic toys recalls a simpler time.  I haven’t heard of “baby hair.” I don’t know how you can have long hair as a baby. Maybe if you shave your head later, then your baby hair is relatively long. A dog-eared map is one that has been folded at the corners. This is the second animal phrase. When writers describe a book as “dog-eared,” they are indicating that it is old and repeatedly used. The speaker says he called for someone, presumably his girlfriend, everywhere. It’s a little odd that he uses “call” rather than “search.” Calling everywhere suggests a person looking for a lost pet.]

Have I found you?
Flightless bird, jealous, weeping
Or lost you?
American mouth
Big pill looming

[Here is more language to suggest a person searching for someone he loves. He compares her to a flightless bird. It’s a little odd to me, because I would think it would be hard to lose a flightless bird seeing as it wouldn’t be going anywhere. Maybe the bird is walking away. Also, I don’t know what to make of the American mouth and the big pill. Americans are highly medicated. Maybe he means that he’s so depressed about losing his girlfriend that he’s taking pills.]
Now I’m a fat house cat
Nursing my sore blunt tongue
Watching the warm poison rats
Curl through the wide fence cracks
Pissing on magazine photos
Those fishing lures thrown in the cold and clean
Blood of Christ mountain stream

[This stanza is particularly rich with animal imagery, featuring a cat, some rats, and fish. These lines seem to be a thumbing of the nose at critics trying to make meaning of them. For instance, what am I to do with “warm poison rats?” And “blood of Christ mountain stream?” Blood of Christ could be another way of saying “wine.” Sometimes streams look dark like wine.]

Have I found you?
Flightless bird, grounded, bleeding
Or lost you?
American mouth
Big pill stuck going down

[This is similar to the chorus that appeared earlier, but with some differences. Before the bird was “jealous, weeping;” now it’s “grounded, bleeding.” There is a change of degree. These adjectives are stronger and more severe. Finally, he says, “Big pill stuck going down.” Choking can be a metaphor for sadness and death. I think there is a realization here that he will never regain what he has lost.]

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  1. #1 by Ewa on June 19, 2011 - 2:45 pm

    Something about baby hair – in Slavic tradition (I mean way way back in history) cutting the boy’s long hair was a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.
    Take care,
    Ewa

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