A Legacy in Bone

What if we were in a dark room? Mm, let’s call it a dark space – no definite walls or borders. Sightless, pitch, and silent beyond your own sounds.

When you think, what comes into being first? Does grass slowly sprout under your feet, does it tickle? Do you smell the grass before you even feel it, and is there light enough to see? I like to think the smell precedes it, that yes, it tickles, and there’s an ambient light we didn’t know was there that now shows the grass.

Now that there’s grass, what’s in it? Are there flowers, weeds, brambles, or small rocks? Or maybe something less nature-y. What if we saw a glass marble first? Then a scrap of cloth – and what kind of cloth is it? Burlap, cotton, wool, maybe velvet? Maybe it’s none of those things, and instead we see…a discarded street sign.

Nothing big like a stop sign or anything with a name or number. Maybe it’s just the “All Way” little rectangle that goes beneath a full stop sign, just sitting there in the moist grass.

As we walk forward, does the grass stay soft? Or does the spongey soil beneath it harden or get gravelly. And if so, what does it give way to? Cracked salt flats? Concrete? Glass?

We’ll say concrete.

Do we walk into a street intersection at, say, midnight? Nah, let’s not put a time on it, we’ll just say it’s still dark. A new moon, stars that are still invisible in a city’s light pollution. Or maybe there’s a single street light.

No?

Alright, four street lights. One on each corner.

If we step into the center of the intersection, do we see anything down each of the roads? Are there apartments, houses, businesses? A park, anything at all? Are they all different, or are they all the same, like mirrors?

Maybe two ways have some of those – a couple parked cars in front of an apartment complex, with houses across the street, and the other has an empty lot and a business on the corner (a liquor store). We’ll say the other two are just dark, no street lights to tell.

But what happened to the grass? Is it still there? Maybe only when we think about it, or maybe it’s gone, with only a few sprigs here and there in the intersection.

Is there anything else in the square with us? A small bauble, like a gemstone or snow globe? Is there another street sign? Or maybe something bigger, like a body?

Hmmm, is the body a person, or an animal?

Animal sounds good.

Now, is it alive or dead? And if it’s dead, how long has it been? Forever and the carcass is just stone? Did it just breathe its last breath before we showed up? Or maybe it isn’t alive, but it’s warm anyway.

We’ll go with that, the gray middle ground. It isn’t dead, really; but to call it alive would be weird too.

Ah, we never said if it’s a person or not.

Why not…a caribou?

Cool, it’s a caribou.

So there we are, with a caribou that’s neither alive nor dead, in the middle of an intersection without a name or time.

What happens when we get close to the caribou?

It’s warm, but it’s not breathing, right? Do we feel anything when we touch it? Do we touch it?

Maybe we do, and feel it’s hide, its fur is surprisingly course. At least it’s more course than we would have expected, having never touched one before.

Let’s say its eyes are closed, and we pet our way from its still side up its neck to its head. What if, once we’re there, we see small somethings on its antlers? What would those be?

Not faces (creepy).

Not gems or sparkles (we tried that already).

Keeping with the color palette so far, how about small flower buds?

And speaking of color palette, what color do we see them as: pink, like cherry blossoms? Maybe their opal blue, with little flecks of pink in there to compromise? Can’t be red, like blood. Can’t be green, because we already have grass. We could make them iridescent, shimmering all manner of colors we can describe and cannot.

I’m leaning opal, kind of a personal bias.

When we examine them closely, are they just buds; do they stay that way? Or do they bloom?

It’s more fun if they bloom, so let’s have them bloom.

When we do, what’s inside? Is it like the skin of a bubble, do they shimmer like diamonds or beads, or does something sprout? And how big do they get? I’m seeing an opening at the center of the bud no larger than a pearl, but as something we can peer through; something that, despite the smallness of the window, we can see an impossibly large interior.

And what’s through that window?

First thought was mountains, like taking on the point of view of an eagle.

Second was the bottom of a waterfall, and a sudden wrestle with the water.

But what I like most is this: it’s dark, with a light somewhere far away. And as we get closer, we come to see they’re streetlights. They’re streetlights that corner an intersection at night. In the middle of that intersection is a caribou, neither alive nor dead, with someone kneeling beside it.

We go like this until we fall into another one of the buds upon its antlers and see another intersection with another caribou, only this time the caribou is alive.

Within these buds is another darkness, with another intersection, with another caribou, but only three lights are lit. Inside another, the two streets that were dark are now lit and the ones that were lit have gone dark. Inside another, the buds are purple and fully flowered. Inside another, we lie in the middle of the intersection, neither alive nor dead, and it’s the caribou that comes to us.

And the possibilities repeat, and spin, and zoom an infinite number of times in an infinite number of ways with changes that are either drastic or small and minute.

Now, do me a favor?

Picture making eye contact with your self in the bathroom mirror – alright, it doesn’t have to be a bathroom mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.

It’s kind of funny, right? That everything from the street sign and the grass, to the intersection and the caribou, and all of that never actually happened, but it sort of did.

Feel lucky to be alive, and thankful for everything that’s real, and isn’t.

A Baby Bird

It’s hot in L.A. I’m walking down the sidewalk with the sun tingling my scalp through my hat, and the sweat tickles the center of my back with every other step. The wind picks up, the palm trees sway, and in the distance the city buzzes.

There wasn’t a shine, a movement, or anything in particular that drew my eye, but I happened to see a baby bird. It was there, on the sidewalk, under a tree. It was so small, so fragile, and its chest rose and fell so quickly with its tiny breaths. Its feathers were small and sparse, and there were small red lines on its body that were probably cuts or scratches. I look up at the tree, and I have to squint my eyes, but I think I see the nest. A timeline of events begins to puzzle its way together into one of two possibilities.

The first, is that a hot, summer wind came along and swept this bird out of the comfort of its nest before its time.

The second, is that it was old enough – it looks big enough to be that old, maybe; but what do I know? – that it was time to learn to fly. And when its mother made this young chick fly, it wasn’t ready.

Either way, it wasn’t ready.

I look back down to the baby bird on the sidewalk. I don’t know what to do. I hope it isn’t in pain, though it probably is. I hope its mother will come for it, though she probably won’t. I hope for some reason to think it might heal, though I’m not sure there is one.

Briefly, I look around for something to end its life with, but quickly realize I don’t have the heart to mercy-kill it, even if it would be a kindness. There are no rocks, no bricks, only my shoe and I can’t bring myself to do that.

So I do the only thing there’s left to do.

I take the scrap of a paper cup lying nearby in the shade of a parked car, and scoop its limp, pulsing form off of the hot sidewalk. I place it a few inches to the side, out of the sun, in the shade of the tree. I take a moment to wish it well – the lone favor of a passing giant – and keep walking, praying it knows comfort in its last hours.

Later on up the sidewalk, I stop again and think about that baby bird. I look up, and a few moments later see no fewer than half a dozen black birds flying overhead from an unknowable origin to an unknowable destination. I small chuckle tells the lesson: We symbolize birds for their freedom, their gift of flight, and it’s usually with jealousy. But rarely, I think, do we consider the cost, the gamble they make when they’re young, and what should happen if the gamble goes poorly. I realized then and there how common a story it must be, to be a bird that never gets to taste flight. Somewhere in that feeling was a mix of respect and admiration for both: for birds whose wings we hail, and those whose wings never spread more than once.

Later, while we’re leaving the city, stuck in the usual, infamous sea of red brake lights, I see the Hollywood sign in distance.

And I chuckle again.

FIN