To Fly Through

by K. McGiffert

 

Fly through My Window

When I walked into the empty parlor, a blue feather drifted in. My childhood! I recalled at once the playground game and song, “Bluebird, bluebird, fly through my window.” I’d never liked the mysterious coda, “Oh, Johnny, aren’t you tired?” but the bluebird part was magic, airy, free. I picked up the feather and my wife said “Ugh, that’s dirty.” “No, its beautiful.” “If you think lice and plague are beautiful, I guess.” “Plague is rats.” “Whatever,” she said, turning away. The real estate agent jumped in, “This is a very clean neighborhood, and this house is tight as a ship.” They moved on to the kitchen. I mulled over “tight as a ship.” How tight is a ship? And aren’t ships overrun with rats? The blue feather in my hand seemed to vibrate. I  loved the big casement windows, thrown open over a garden. A bird could have woven its way through these windows, as we used to do, under each other’s clasped hands. Blue jay, bluebird, indigo bunting. Some spark of blueness. I heard my wife in the kitchen asking if there were screens for all the windows. I did feel tired. I ran the feather under my lower lip, soft. It took effort to walk to one of the windows, breathe the jasmine, and let the blue feather go. It pirouetted out of sight among the flowers.

 

Learning Skulls

He had an arrogant tilt to his head when he spoke. “No, that is not a rodent’s skull” he corrected, “it’s a rabbit’s.” “How can you tell” I asked because I really wanted to know. “Oh, various features” he said, impatiently. I continued to stare up at him. “Well,” he sighed, tinkling his drink, “See, there are little extra incisors behind the front set—here’s the diastema, but rodents have that too. And, of course, the rabbit skull is fenestrated.” I could see what the diastema was when he pointed, but I wasn’t sure about fenestrated. I looked at him, waiting. He sighed. “Lots of, kind of like honeycomb, little windows.” And he turned away to the couple next to him. I reached up to take the skull off the mantlepiece as the party buzzed around me. I loved the idea of someone’s skull having little windows. And the network of windows looked made of spun sugar. In the delicate sugar was a secret of rabbits. I loved rabbits, their vulnerability, the way they kicked playfully in spring twilights, the long tender ear to stroke. But then he came back to me, saying “The skull is from a rabbit I shot and ate. Then I boiled it and gave it to dermestid beetles to clean up for me.” He was proud, I could see. I looked into the spun sugar until it hardened to bone.

 

the Failure of Poetry

My favorite poem is “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts,” by Wallace Stevens. I don’t know what it means. A potentially dangerous cat shrinks to a “small green bug in the grass” while the rabbit grows monolithically in front of the moon. It is summer, fragrantly hot, and the powerless becomes like a god this one night. That poem was a favorite of my friend, Ben, too. Ben took English classes on break from the psych ward where we were living. Living was hard for him. One night, he went home to his mother on a pass, shut himself into the bathroom and sliced both wrists. He was saved, but now his fingers were each threaded through a brace fixed to the bandaged wrists, in order for his tendons to heal back into useful things. I tied his shoes for him; he said I looked good in jeans. One evening, we were talking about poetry. I quoted Stevens, saying, “I love the sound of ‘his fire-fangled feathers dangled down’.” But he didn’t pick it up. He said “I just wish I could step away for a while. Sleep in the air. Just sleep there for a time, weightless.” I nodded and said little, a good listener, like a therapist, feeling myself large with understanding and kindness. The next morning, Ben left the ward, climbed the many stairs, and with his tied fingers ripped a fire extinguisher from the wall and shattered the window. And then he was gone. The sleep—I hope it felt long and deep and that he was the “nothing that is” by the time he reached the parking lot. I failed to save him, didn’t come close. I became the tiny cat-bug and he’s still the dark ghost, eclipsing the moon.

 

 

 

 

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