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 headstone. 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.
Life ought be little more than arrhythmic motion, a path we only want to straighten, to smooth, its natural, necessary twists and bumps somehow, for we always see them as impediments not moments of joyous indecision where there are no wrong choices for each choice unfolds a new path never trodden, never imagined or foreseen.
A bird flies to where it needs to be, but for most that are not migrating, that place isn’t known until arrival and even then, save for nesting, it is the right place only for a day, a week, a month or perhaps only a moment, for a bird knows only this moment and this until there are no more moments.
In that moment when the gentle chirping of a small bird resounds as a pounding spring deluge, washes away the creak and thrum of passing cars, when she sings only to you, her small voice drawn in to your ears, your mind, until it fades slowly like the bell and you wait for it to strike again, to feel it seep down your spine, ooze into your fingers and toes, pool in bent knees and elbows, folded hands. In that moment the gentle chirping is your voice, and you are perched in the weeping cherry tree in the garden preening in the morning sun.
As a young child, I always imagined myself a bird, poised to take wing the next time my parents told me I couldn’t do what I wanted, to swoop around, out of their grasp, until it was time for lunch or dinner.
Years later my dream was to be a pilot, Air Force not Navy, I might get seasick and that isn’t a sight even I would want to see, until I read Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” and the ground seemed a safer place.
Once in the business world, I thought about some day retiring young and seeing the world on the cheap, Asia, Africa, Oceana, and that lasted until the second time I had to fly to Japan with fourteen hours in a coach class middle seat on a Boeing 747 when my backyard suddenly became the future of my dreams.
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?