hour by hour

Dead Birds

for D. Jurgens Dead Birds exhibition

In the morning you rise as mist from the river. The sky accepts you wholly.
This is the first time you can rest on the wing.

A dark night and a white spark, then big colorless nonbeing. You are scattered.
Others find you and weave your softness into their nests.

The flock is taken by exhaustion. You fly, it’s all you can do, but it’s not enough. You aren’t given the warmth, or the food you need, yet it’s still a joy to fly with them all. With their shelter you can go on.

On an ordinary day I encounter no one on the way from school but neighbor dogs poking their snouts through knot-holes to sniff my hands, and all days are ordinary until the moment they aren’t. A neighbor, whom I had never seen before, knelt in the alley with a box and a bundle, and as I approached the scene I saw you there, your beak agape and your feathers disheveled, small and still, a raptor. I was excited, fierce raptors being my favorite birds, and came as close as I could, though my neighbor and my mother told me to stand back. Your eye reflected light strangely. It was a gold basin filled with red blood. That eye saw nothing. The longer I looked the more it terrified me. I was invisible.

We first saw you, fledgling bird, nodding off in a hanging flower pot on our porch. We giggled at you, softly, from inside, you were just as we were as tiny children. A weak flier, untested and unaware, you glided over the head of our dopey cat, who never once chased a bird. You must have startled him because next moment you were in the dust, and the scrub jays who had seen it happen screamed and dove at him. I hoped you were stunned, since you were still warm, but after an hour that warmth faded. The dirt around our house was hard packed clay, and armed only with a stick I couldn’t dig a hole deep enough for you. Instead I found a dark corner around the foundation and put you there. The next day you were gone, taken by the night crew, who move all such sad little things to where they are needed.

In the first summer I lived away from my parents I rode my bike around constantly. I rode rural roads and the rail trail, sometimes in fantastic, insect-song inundated heat, sometimes in warm soaking rain. I felt free and rode without a destination, but there was something compelling me to ride I was unaware of. I began to see dead animals on the road. Sometimes they really were that, a squirrel or a bird, but often times they were nothing but a puff of leaves. Then my thoughts as I rode became filled with visions of me being hit by cars. As I climbed hills my heart pounded with not just exertion but a consuming fear. I was woken at night by the screams of foxes, if the heat hadn’t prevented me from sleeping. I was crumbling under a fear of living, and every day I rode forth to escape it. I stopped one day on the side of the road. There the land dipped into a soft bog full of yellow flowers, and a tree stood there which had drowned when water collected here. Birds flitted and sang among the reeds. I can turn around now, I thought, I can go home and rest.