CW: talk/imagery of death, discussion of suicide, panic attacks, and miscarriages.
Bird Kill | Creative Nonfiction
I used to be more brave before the panic attacks. They took flight after the deaths — one person died, then another, then another. What is there to panic about? News is focused on polar bears hunting for whales because the ice is too thin to hunt seals anymore. A young boy with a bomb strapped to his chest wandered into a marketplace and killed a bunch of people. Pick a letter of the alphabet and you’ve got a disaster. Tropical Storm Andrea. Cyclone Sonia. Hurricane Barry. No charges are ever filed. Everything in L.A. is on fire.
“First they kill our bodies, then they kill our characters,” Melina shouts. Still, no charges are ever filed. Last month Ryan Twyman, last year Anthony Weber. There’s more I could catalog for you.
I have to look up so I don’t fall. When the trees speak to me, they say:
They shake my shoulders. They smell like the skin of un-ripened cantaloupe or soaked lichen on wet brick. I take their leaves to press between the pages of a notebook. That’s just one collection. I have other collections, too. Flowers, weeds, feathers. All the ways I thought about how to kill myself – the tub (too dramatic), a rope (too unpredictable), swerving my car into the cement median of the freeway (hurting other people).
How many dead birds are in my collection now? Oh, hundreds.
The first of this summer is a new crow. The beak and fuzzy head curve into the concrete. Eye socket open. Waxy, rubbery wings. It is soft greys sketched into folds of skin and feather-fuzz. Milky eyes churn with gnats.
When I saw it I wanted to stop longer and stare – to crouch down close – poke it with a stick and make sure — but a boy was coming up behind me fast, music loud in the earbuds, head down, someplace to go, and the walkway so narrow— I was invisible.
I thought of that time I got left behind in a graveyard because I followed a tan rabbit hopping between tombstones and that other time I got left behind in a graveyard because I was filling her grave with dirt, shoveling it myself and bloodying my palms.
I don’t want to write about anxiety attacks. I hit the brakes and a retired Marine from Alaska crumples his Mazda Miata against the ass of my silver Beetle. He is so sorry. So so sorry. When the police come, we fill out a report — What can I say?
No one has enough babies anymore? Mine died. After the last time daddy said “there won’t be any more Ogdens after me” and I heard my make-nice voice whisper, “He didn’t mean it that way” but I was still ashamed I’d lost whatever was on those sheets.
When I look up there is only freeway signs and concrete. Last year a woman jumped into all 4 lanes and shut it down. No one died – except the woman. That bird’s insides were gone. Bright blue wings and a bloody neck. It was a bird-hull split up the center and its beak was open in a last measure of lyric.
What can I say to this cop? To the Marine?
I’m so sorry too? I thought I saw a bird?
When my friend Jane died her mouth opened so wide. Do all beaks and mouths and jaws go slack at death? I didn’t get to see my mother’s mouth, but her cat did. They found him sleeping on her chest, his nose nestled between her lips.
Something leaves the body and then, you know, when you look back at the body, there isn’t anything there anymore. When Jane left her body, we all banged drums and shook bells and opened windows.
My mother’s ashes are in my storage locker in the parking garage.
I want to get back to that dead bird from this morning. I keep thinking, wow, things are going well, maybe this will be the summer that dead bird isn’t a messenger of death but then today I drew “grief” out of a paper bag 4 times in a row – it freaked me out – I said out loud: “I don’t want to write about grief anymore. I’m sick of grief!” I am my own ghost, so let me forget myself a little longer here.
I left behind a pile of laundry and 2 earthquakes and the palm tree outside my kitchen window. I brought with me all these text messages from my sister asking to borrow money. There’s another one!
Dear Kiki – I need a favor. Can you lend me 100 dollars? I promise you’ll get it back today.
Another dead bird – just a part of it – each foot and the tail wing like a little broken Russian doll. Something has carried off the head and feet. The days go by so quickly and the heat is heavy outside but my room is cold. I think the rain might come in a few days and that will be good.
Should I give my sister this money?
The steeple’s green and burnt-red scales glisten against patches of cloud. There’s dew on the grass. It’s a little thing but it hardly gets attention, though I notice it. Each blade is weighted in bubbles of water.
I feel completely at peace in this moment. I feel happy. I feel lucky. I feel deep gratitude. I feel open. I feel alive. I feel awake.
Once I walked this same path holding the sweaty hand of a little red-haired girl. She bent to pick up a large leaf. Her eyes widened and she sucked in her lips when the leaf’s underbelly revealed a moving caterpillar.
She explained: this is its house. It eats its house.
I eat my houses too.
I don’t take the rocks or bricks from anywhere I’ve been because bad luck follows. I take handfuls of dirt instead and I carry it in jars in my suitcase. There’s a jar for every place I’ve grieved.
The sounds of the ceiling fan and the shaking of the sirens are cacophony, so I leave behind: ocean, dried mud, afternoon naps, Uniball pens, the chasm between my brain and my body, making love in bed when it’s raining, the hands of the Thai massage therapist on my solar plexus pushing down between my breasts.
When I stand too long in the middle of the day gnats find my eyes and nose. They find my lips and my temples. I am the hull of a dead bird fallen from tree limbs and see? I’m rotting in the grass.
These gnats are in love with my face. Mother used to cup my cheeks in her palms and she kissed them like gnats, the frenzy of her kisses smelling like cigarettes and coffee. It anchors me, that film-clip echo from some other time.
If I could spin lines of silk to save me from hanging myself, I would.
KE Ogden grew up in Hawai’i, San Francisco, and Baywood, Louisiana. Ogden’s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Windhover, The Kenyon Review Online, anderbo, brevity, Louisiana Literature, Fringe, Avatar Review, Claudius Speaks, and Phoebe.