Thursday, August 27, 2009


When they said, "Bird Girl", they didn't know the real pain she'd endured to be the thing they were calling her. They didn't said it meanly, just matter-of-factly. That's how she'd be introduced and they were just repeating it back. "Bird Girl", a name not unlike Missy or Pearl. Something to respond to.

She wasn't technically a bird, of course, being formed like a human. She had very real legs and arms, even shins that she skinned straight though to the front-end of August. And she a forehead, one that beaded with a jittery, nervous sweat you'd never see, because of the obscuring of barbs.

The people who did it to her, they were fully aware of the pain; it was their motivation for doing it. They'd spent the better part of a decade trudging the expanses of sun-ruined farm fields, beaches overrun by sharp rocks, and state park trails where people went to suck on the gristle of forgetting.

All the time, they had tall, narrow wicker baskets where they'd line up the feathers they'd find. There were all sorts, from every bird that summered in or battled the bleaches of snow that plagued that part of the country.

If you'd have seen them, you would would have thought that they were ornothologists of ruin, scavengers of shed beauty and function. A little crazy and poorly outfitted, but nothing to hide from.

When she was born, they started gathering quicker, like plucking cotton.

Calamus. That's what it's called, the part of a feather that's like a fingernail mixed with a pin. And that's what they jabbed into her, right before she had enough words to object. They layered their full life list in neat rows over and in her skin until you could see none of it.

They restrained her in the front room, plopped in front of a television that played PBS from sun-up to sun-down while her skin healed around the feathers, as if suturing them in.

When she was healed fully, they set her loose in the yard, in the school, in a pointed place of worship.

In all these places, you could hear them say her name. The one they knew to say. The words weren't queer on their tongues. They said it smoothy, with a whistle of almost sweetness to their lips.

She looked at them when they did, and wondered: How'd this luckiness find me?

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