The seed speckles the snow like buckshot piled neatly under the branch where we, fingers numbed, tied the little chalet to the lowest limb of the ancient maple. The birds stand staring as the squirrel swings slowly in the breeze.
The clouds well up over the foothills casting a gray pall, bearing the angry spirits of the chindi who dance amid the scrub juniper. Brother Serra, was this what you found, wandering along the coast, tending the odd sheep, Indian and whatever else crossed your path?
The blue bird hopping across the dried grasses puffing its grey breastplate and cape sitting back, its long tail feathers a perfect counterbalance. It stares at the oppressing clouds and senses the impending rain. The horses wandering the hill pausing to graze on the sparse green grasses. The roan mare stares at the colt dashing among the trees then returns to her meal, awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await the fall of night when they are free to roam and steal other souls. Was your water rite more powerful than the blessing chants? Did you ward off their evil and purify the breeze of the mountains?
He circles carefully constantly adjusting altitude expanding and contracting his orbits in great increments. His each move is calculated that much is obvious. And you watch him with a deep fascination. You are not the only watcher this day, at this time, others peer up as he plunges downward breaking the surface, his head appearing, thrown back, consuming what ever it is he plucked. While I stand watching the anhinga on the shore of the pond makes it clear he finds the pelican the least graceful of all his distant kin.
A crane stands placidly staring through the window as we earnestly attempt to imitate him, hoping he will honor the effort if not the result. The master is graceful and we are far less so, and out of the corner of my eye I see on the crane what could be a smile, or as easily derision, and take comfort in the thought that the root of the word is shared with laughter, and we can accept that not as a mark of failure but effort. The crane returns to the pond the master to his neigong and we imagine we are all noble birds awaiting flight.
I’ve always been a bird person, perhaps it is just jealousy their ability to fly unencumbered, encased, to lift up by will alone. Here it is all about water, the Muscovy ducks waddling up to me each morning, pleading for the handout they should now know will not be forthcoming, at least when anyone else is around to cast disapproving glances or worse, and the coots, pairs swimming in the fountain ponds are not ducks they claim, we of the lobed toes and flashes of white between the deeply set eyes. But above all it is the Egyptian goose his old Jewish man clearing throat honk that catches my ear and not just any old Jewish man, but Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, and I half hope his partner warbles like Carol Kane.
Ensconced on the couch, the cat hears a bird singing outside the window. Once, she would have pressed her face against the screen, imagining a great chase. Now she listens, content to let the birds sing into the fading sun.
It is that moment when the moon is a glaring crescent, slowly engulfed by the impending night — when the few clouds give out their fading glow In the jaundiced light of the sodium arc street lamp.- It nestles the curb — at first a small bird — when touched, a twisted piece of root
I want to walk into the weed-strewn aging cemetery, stand in the shadow of the expressway, peel the uncut grass from around her head- stone. I remember her arthritic hands clutching mine, in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling of vinyl camphor borsht I saw her last in a hospital bed where they catalog and store those awaiting death, stared at the well-tubed skeleton barely indenting starched white sheets. She smiled wanly and whispershouted my name — I held my ground unable to cross the river of years unwilling to touch her outstretched hand. She had no face then, no face now, only an even fainter smell of age of camphor of lilac of must
Next to the polished headstone lies a small, twisted root. I wish it were a bird, I could place gently on the lowest branch of the old maple that oversees her slow departure.
First appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, No. 1-2, 2006 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.