Birds look at me with inquisitively cocked heads like they’re asking a rhetorical question and nothing I say will be the right answer but nothing I say will be the wrong answer, either, and this constant demand for answers, their unpredictable flight paths, their predilection to traveling in flocks, their potential to swarm taught me that I couldn’t trust them since they couldn’t trust me, so birds became my first fear.
A violent pigeon at the outdoor café flapped its wings sitting on the chair opposite me, until I was so scared I ran away, surrendering to it my barely touched sandwich, paying the server standing in the restaurant’s hallway blocking the path between the kitchen and the bathroom, because I couldn’t sit at that table screaming in fear of a pigeon while the other diners watched.
The pet cockatiel my host family in Australia had when I did a home—stay during a student program flew around the living room and the kitchen while I pretended not to duck and cower and my skin turned sweaty and blotchy from the anxiety until my third morning there, when I woke up to the news that the bird had died overnight, keeled over in its night time cage and dropped into a pile of wood shavings, and my host—sister thought my fear had killed it.
The black birds after laying their eggs every spring swooped and shrieked in my hometown mall, protecting their nests in the eves of the pretzel place, perceiving every pedestrian as a threat, even me, even at 5’1”, even though I was just walking by on the way to Claire’s Accessories for a fake belly button ring that I bought but never wore, because every time I looked at it, I could feel the searing pain of my pecked scalp.
Two more decades passed and suddenly I started finding dead birds everywhere I went, several times a week, always underfoot as I walked my dog and pulled her away from them, their bloody feathers smashed into the pavement in a crosswalk, or lying on their backs with their feet pointing to the sky after flying into a window that they thought was just air, and people just walk by and nobody even gives them a glance, and their feathers are so delicate and symmetrical up close like that, and I must absolve past birds of their behaviors, because that pigeon was just hungry, that cockatiel was just old, those blackbirds were just protecting their young.
Two things can be true at once, like birds can have wings and legs and still not move out of the way of tires in time; I say goodbye even when I want to stay; I lived by a hair salon called “Sundays,” and that was the one day of the week they weren’t open; I never said yes but they hear that I also never said no; the last man I was in love with thinks he destroyed me, but I think he perfected me.
And especially how sometimes I want to become my enemy and be one of these birds: eat the dropped pizza slice on the sidewalk; scream my call from a wire when I’m looking for someone else who’s like me; ruin someone’s day by shitting on their shoulder in public and telling them it’s good luck; I want to ram my head against a tree and kiss it with my mouth so hard over and over and over again that I leave holes; I want to be splayed out in the middle of a dining room table while a family fights over my inevitably dry breasts or thighs and eats me off the good plates, because now I know how to fear you and mourn you at the same time.
Lexi Kent-Monning is an alumna of the Tyrant Books workshop Mors Tua Vita Mea in Sezze Romano, Italy. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, and can be found online at https://www.lexikentmonning.com/
featured photo by Lexi Kent-Monning