Birds are a problem. Up there, the air is dense with up-fluttering, wheeling ’round, down drafting. It’s deafening. The rustle beat of a thousand ruffled primaries striking a syncopated rhythm that cocks asymmetric after a moment or eight.
The smears on the screen of my cell phone make the shape of a bird skull in oils. A crane’s bill smudged on plastic. It’s well enough. I am a bird some days myself. Not a crane, but a shocky little screech owl…
I should tell you the tale, better this time. It would be easier. He was only my whole hand in size. He did not have flight the night before, struck from the air by a passing something. The good Samaritan who brought him in wouldn’t say, maybe didn’t know.
I thought, I’m not all that different from you, when I reached in with my gloved hand. I thought, you must be terrified, and he blinked.
Birds are a problem.
There were feathers everywhere when he exploded into the room. There were feathers everywhere in the nest he’d left in the back of the kennel cage. He circled the trailer on little wings, silent except where they collided with lights and cabinets and trays full of medicine and meal worms.
Up there, the air was hot because the hospital trailer’s AC was out, and the owl could not be calmed. Don’t open the door, I thought, and the door remained closed a moment more. Don’t open the door, I thought, when the handle, held, turned down.
He wheeled ’round and down, and then there were tiny talons in my scalp. He wound ’round my hair with his claws, and I was deafened with needles; no sound but the chorus of prickles. I could not hear the words the vet spoke as she entered by the door, only the rustle of the owl on my head.
After a moment or eight, I caught the cock of his head in the silver of a tray before he leaned out and down to glide to the operating table. He stood there trembling when my gloved hand caught his tiny legs, those talons that had drawn my blood a moment before.
He knew not what he’d done. Birds are a problem. He and I are not so different. We are, for instance, not so stately as a crane, instead are shocked by the awkward world around us, caught off guard by something which plucks us from the air. We, unable to fly, can only sit at rest, heart pounding, until we test the measure of a wing, or the space in which we’re given to fly.