New Orleans. I'VE SEEN Brancusi's ''Golden Bird'' or ''Magic Bird'' in countless pictures and I once had a dream about it.
I dreamed that I was hiding the Golden Bird in a secret room. Two policemen came and dug up the whole garden in search of it. They found nothing and I was amused to think that policemen should be so stupid as to look for a bird in the ground. The whole time they were digging the bird was there in the room but they couldn't see it because it had become ''the invisible bird.''
Looking at this bird, poised radiantly at the beginning of the 20th century, Mina Loy, the great poet, wrote in 1922: ''The toy/ became the aesthetic archetype . . ./ The gong/ of polished hyperaesthesia shrills/ with brass/ as the aggressive light/ strikes/ its significance.'' This poem appeared in the Dial in the same issue as T.S. Eliot's ''Wasteland.''
Brancusi, the Romanian-born peasant who carted his sculptures Paris in a wheelbarrow created in ''The Bird'' an enduring antidote of light to the coming darkness of police states and war. Another Romanian, the poet Lucian Blaga, said of the Bird: ''Are you a bird/ a traveling bell/ Or a creature, an earless jug/ perhaps?/ A golden song spinning/ above our fear of dead riddles?''
For seven decades Brancusi's hopelessly utopian bird in flight soared through the dimming lights of our century, looking terribly naive during the two world wars, only to charm us again when our souls were at rest. As I followed the recent events in Eastern Europe I kept seeing The Magic Bird, now rising, now eclipsed, now rising again. The Bird is more than a sculpture, it is as Mina Loy said something ''archetypal,'' something we always had inside of us that simply took its place in our consciousness when Brancusi made it.
A few days ago I saw the real thing. In a back room at the Chicago Art Institute the great Bird was being readied for exhibition. Having grown to mythic proportions in my mind I hadn't realized its quite modest dimensions. But that was, in fact, its secret. Rising there at an angle from its two pedestals, a wooden and a stone one, it elongated my hands and my face in its reflections, pulling me up with it. We soared together. Gravity be damned, it's OK to fly.