I pick up the flat fledgling looking for the fall
in purple fluid swell filling transparent cranium,
dark blue blooming under the pink sheer of skin,
so thin. There’s no bone filling in ribs in this slight
thing frilled by wind, just pneumatic marrow.
Not even feathers yet. I read the wings for trauma;
I look for fractured vertebrae, next for nests. I think
of the garage birds knocking their young
out of the rafters in our carport—a test for thrift,
I guess, precociousness. I still don’t know how pinwings
could manage keeping a baby bird afloat. I remember
those babies tangling up. They would get so caught up
in my hair. I can’t remember if I decided to help them
or if someone helped me decide. I was young.
They would use the hair later to make nests
in the pecan tree in the backyard. I think this is why
I love birds now, why their prehistoric skin fills me
with such anticipation, their feathers such a prickling.
Apparently, it used to scare me, the birds in my hair.
They came back a year later, and they had learned to fly,
to leave urates on the concrete. I think they stained
my clothes with that white glue, and I let them,
because we had raised them to be wild, not clean.
Sometimes I wonder if this really happened,
because I can’t remember what kind of birds they were—
mockingbirds, grackles, something bigger than a sparrow—
But, they let me believe, that deep within me was their wild:
every fledgling I’ve ever seen since. They sing and sing it.
I want to take this baby bird apart to know for sure
what happened to it, but I set it back on its slab.
I don’t have the right tools. Did I ever?
I’m old enough now to know the baby is gone already.
Don’t worry, little bruise, it will be soon you’ll fly
in the jaws of a hawk’s fist; It used to make me sad,
but now I know I could not have saved you if I tried.
Clara Bush Vadala is a North Texas veterinarian and poet. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in SWWIM Online, Thimble Literary Magazine, and 3Elements Review. Her first book of poems: “Prairie Smoke: Poems from the Grasslands,” is available from Finishing Line Press.