This writing life. Alone in the multitudinous sea of “Likes” and “Comments” and “Shares.” There are promises. There will always be promises as there are always uncles in Dylan Thomas’s Christmases in Wales. Promises are treacherous things, slippery and corrupt. I make them myself and berate myself for having done so. Learn to say “No.” Do not say, “I will add you to the roster.” Instead, say, “No.” Better to be the honest writer who writes honest words than invest in the myths of liars. In the darkness after sunset – the coyotes rail at the passing train, their cries carrying the tale across the fields – the rattlesnakes are sleeping, their hollow bones reverberating from the wealth of deceit. In the dust the pages lay scattered, their inked surfaces unfinished and raw as open sores on a lone coyote, separated from the pack, his patchwork of fur a distorted checkerboard of manginess. Stay. Alone. At sea. Ignore. Simmering in the back of the room, head too big for the skeleton, this one is filled to the brim with nothing good. Avert the eyes, focus on the positive, lift up your voice and sing. Words and music rise and fall, dragonflies in the wind. Whisper a secret into a discarded husk of ancient mollusk and wait for the lies to return on the incoming tide.
The hum, the water running, a gravitational shift where the rocks tumble uphill and the exposed insects and bugs scrape in the dirt for safety. Particles split, collide, crumble into smaller and smaller pieces. These are the tiny fractures in nature’s structure; ones that will expand and widen over time, creating the smallest of dismays and uncertainties in distant lives lived out in innocuous places. When the rift arrives, it is with a loudness, a cry, the pain broken away from the bedrock, the shards torn at the edges, razored and waiting to contact the fleshy part of a forearm or thigh and score a reminder for future reference.
My metaphors are unseasoned pieces of raw chicken
A new teaching contract mitigates other disappointments
My mother’s memory is a pair of fading footprints in the sandy orchard soil
I must be a more patient person
Open windows allow the birdsong inside
Kindness must trump ambition
I prefer cool temperatures
I never submitted an application this year
I was born with a chirp in my heart. At first my parents barely paid it any attention, but when the beak began pushing against my skin and the sharp outline threatened to puncture me, they summoned the doctor.
He reached into his cavernous satchel and withdrew a small jar of bird food. “Open wide,” he said, and pushed a pincer-grip of seed into my mouth. I coughed, teared up, and wailed. The chirping loudened and the beak stacattoed against my rib; the drumbeat of hunger.
The doctor whispered to my parents. My mother slumped to the floor and cried. After arguing with him for a few minutes, my father said, “All right. Do what you must.”
Hands entered the satchel again, and this time withdrew a small tool. My father held me down as the doctor sawed through the side of my chest cavity and exposed the ribcage. The small bird struggled to escape between two ribs, but was already too big for the opening. The doctor used a wad of cotton wool and Mercurochrome to dry the blood around the hole, and when he finished he drugged me with something that smelled like old socks soaked in petroleum.
When my parents saw the makeshift cage and the bird with its feathers all stuck together with dried blood, the word “unsupportable” was used. The worm my mother held out was snatched from her fingers and swallowed in a flash.
“Maybe there’s a book we could read,” she said.
The doctor shook his head and said, “No book. This is a completely new field.” He packed the satchel, crammed the saw into a side-pocket, and tipped his hat to my parents.
The bird was frantic, its wings beating, croaking noises escaping from its beak. “Spend some time with it,” the Doctor said, about to pull the door shut. My mother said, “Let me see you out,” leaving me alone with my father and the small creature loose in my chest.
The sun filtered in the window, my father’s shadow on the wallpaper, the artistic swirls and flourishes traveling floor to ceiling. He clucked at the bird, snapped his fingers, made flapping motions with his arms, but the bird perched on top of my heart, silent.
“It’s a dead loss,” my father said. “You’ve a real botch job to contend with now.” He sat on the end of the bed, rested his chin on his hands and watched several gray seagulls pass across the rooftops.
“I never thought I’d have a son with a birdcage for a chest,” he said. The beak scraped on the white of my rib and my heart did something strange in response.
Ma came in with a bowl of Minestrone soup and buttered bread cut into fingers. On the tray there was also an egg-cup with crushed walnuts for the bird. As I spooned the hot broth down, she held out small bits of nut to the bird and it delicately plucked them from her fingers. She oohed and aahed at the creature and the way it hopped about my chest cavity. After a bit she left with the dirty dishes and I lay back and closed my eyes. The beating of my heart lulled the bird to sleep and its feathers ruffled against the bare-boned cage as the waxing moon filled the window frame.