At first glance there’s nothing improbable here. A girl’s vision though the kitchen window: red bird perched on a fence post.
Pope Francis carries a single green frond, prays on Palm Sunday, invoking memories of a child’s first cardinal. They say a glimpse of this bird gives you luck all day.
Snow climbs the fence post’s north side. This is the improbable part. Don’t birds fly south for the winter?
In mid-20th century Oklahoma, ice crystals form, window lace, next to the kitchen stove, next to a wall phone, above the brown linoleum, across from the formica table set for four.
On another morning after a blizzard, her father walks out to retrieve his children from the neighbor’s house, dropped off by a school bus that could travel no farther. Over a mile they trudge back in, son on his shoulders, holding her hand, as she navigates drifts above the knee, lifting her legs as high as she can.
Out the kitchen window she sees – you see – a first cardinal. Her heart – your heart – leaps at the sight. Her flight of fancies has begun.
Francis is fifty plus years into the future. The first Pope from the Americas, blessing the masses. Then, she soared with a simple joy for the red bird on a fence post, in spite of the snow, against the north wind.
Many Cardinals to come, but this one, this first one, an invocation, a first hope. A first improbable prayer.
Cawing in the trees, 1963, a year of assassination. It could have been any fall, any football season.
Crows on telephone poles or pecking at stubble, black dots waddling in a cropped silent field of broomcorn, or in a Dallas tree.
Rape witness cawing. Murder witness cackling. Jackie in her pink bloody dress. I am no less taken or changed.
Both of us mourning some loss.
3. Scissor Tail
They’ve come back from Mexico, thinking Spring has arrived. They don’t know much yet, about Oklahoma springs that lull you into a false hope, then blindside you, with a hard wind and sleet, stinging your cheek, one more time.
The two of them hang onto the wire above us with their clenching toes, their long scissor-like tails balancing wobbly tentative bodies, like a ballast.
Mom is unaware of the countdown to a nursing home. Our feet will crunch dirt and broken rock,
as if this walk will last forever, or happen time and time again.
I ask her what she’s thinking. The scissor tails hang on tighter. I dab her eyes with a Kleenex.
She says, “Everything.”
Oldest bird on earth, 60 million year old fossil proof. Bird of Apollo, dancing in spring, a fabled life span of a thousand years.
A masseuse stretches myofacial tissue releasing the lymph system to do its work. A cleansing, an opening up. I’m not sure I believe it.
Keats coined negative capability, dealing comfortably with uncertainty and mystery, without the imposition of logic, a suspension of disbelief.
I try to relax, close my eyes. Her warm flat palms press down and spread, stretching lengths of fleshy muscle. Tissue unfolding between the solar plexus and the uterus. Slowly I’m taller, longer, almost ancient. My mind drifts.
Japanese cranes, five feet tall, six foot wing span, white bodies, red crowns, conveyor of Souls
to paradise, a mother’s prayer for her child’s protection.
I slip off my shoes on the porch of the Heian period. Murasaki Shikibu smiles, says, “You’ve come.”
We partake in the Thousand Cranes, thousand year old tea ceremony. She reads her waka poem.
Since that evening
When the man that I had known
Became no more than smoke,
How its name brings memories –
The Bay of Salt-cauldrons.
My son and my wife:
Share my ashes in two bags.
Son, shake some over
My love, on Cambria sand.
We lament I have no time for the Tale of Genji.
In the darkened room of the masseuse, red-headed cranes dance on my stomach, fly to the ceiling and are gone.
You came home in a square box, interlocking folds at the top, like take out Chinese. I can still hear the scratch of your feet inside.
White canary angel, once caged, you sang for twelve years and never stopped. Miho: metaphor for a son.
I did not nurture you well or obsessively did so, no happy medium. You persevered, singing for an imaginary Other who never came.
In the end, I focus on saving you. You hop around behind aquarium glass, on a soft white towel, under a heat lamp, sipping water, pecking at peas and broccoli, the yolk of an egg, crack a few seeds.
When your head is too heavy, I know I must make the decision. A tiny needle. Eternal sleep. I bury you in a shoe box under the Japanese maple.
In dreams, you will reappear again and again, in the mouths of lions of dogs. I save you over and over.
Sometimes limp, sometimes grinning at me, with wide white improbable teeth.
We resolve to let them nest. In spite of the fact that succulents will be sacrificed, the clay pot may fall,
shit will have to be hosed off the fence.
Life and our attention turn to them, two mourning doves that Google says are dumb and mate for life, or a season, facts differ.
We watch them switch off, come and go, bake in the sun, consider buying a bamboo parasol
Two women gone mad for the doves.
Phyllis Brotherton received her MFA from Fresno State University. Her work has been published in literary journals including Spry, Your Impossible Voice, Shark Reef and Under the Gum Tree. Her essay, “Ashes and File Cabinets” was nominated for Best of the Net 2015 by Jet Fuel Review. She is currently seeking a publishing home for her collection of personal essays, “Creating Artifacts, Writing in the Margins.” She works for the local PBS station and lives with her wife in Clovis, CA.