A Sturdy Well Built Home
For weeks we watch the white-headed woodpecker whittle out a nest in the once-stout beam or our house, the rotting wood irresistible. A nest that might befit a mate – tempting her with a tapped-out invitation –pulled in by the promise of a flawless home. We listen hushed, at the first pale squeaks and hisses, anticipating a perfect perch from which to watch the metamorphosis of bright white egg to fully-fledged flyer.
When I was pregnant for the first time (and at 35, I assumed for the last), we carved out space for a nursery, feathered our nest bit by bit: sweet-dream sheets, hand-made blankets, star-moon mobiles, color and life and all the hope that lives there.
Gripped for weeks by some sad sleepiness, I wake, at last, to a brightened world, finally seeing the yellow nodding heads of the glacier lilies, the sprouting spring beauties in their lacy go-to-meeting caps. I see the spotty fawn no bigger than a tabby cat, no more than a morsel for a mountain lion, maybe just enough to feed the coyote’s pups for a day. I see again the vibrancy of living in a home surrounded by nature – life and suffering, beauty and fear. And here the awkward chick flaccid in the driveway, much too far from its nest to have flung its own fragile body there. Pushed or carried out? Fallen or torn away?
When I was pregnant for the first time, I waited as long as possible before admitting it. “Something is wrong.”
And now this creature, still not stiffened, translucent and cool in the lightly closed warmth of my palm, my tepid breath breathed into its pale, slack bill. I imagine motion where there is none. No feather to shiver, only transparent flesh, all internal organs visible. Membranous bulges where eyes would soon have been. Like a fetus at 20 weeks.
Grief, why do you visit me these ways.
There are too many things I am trying to save:
My home from forest fire
My son from aimlessness in this floundering world
My only child from cancer
A failure at all of it. Even after 20 years on this property, the forest still needs thinning, the deck to be replaced, the siding subbed-out for corrugated metal. There are still too many dogs in shelters, in backyard breeding pens, unwanted on the vet’s table at their final visit.
My son, I fear, has not had a good parent in me. While his dad, my husband, sits in front of the computer researching our boy’s cancer, I sit trying to write about it.
Some birds mate for life despite their losses, come back to the same place to try again, so we too tried again, revamped the nest, forgiving, plump, a sturdy well-built home. But now our only son has my disease, the news that took my neverborn.
I can’t save them
Doug fir posts and Engleman spruce logs, hand hewn and solidly placed – not as a safe as it would seem –
When your child is taken before it’s born… wait…
When you must decide to allow your child to be taken before it is born, how do you find that safe home in a country like this. In a world like this. How do you locate that haven where you might find pardon?
– a late cold snap, the nest hole filling with a freezing rain. All that care, raising young to autonomy, drowned. The birds gone.
And we are no longer scolded, or peered at from that chiseled notch. And they no longer labor in frenzied unison to keep their only offspring fed and sheltered and safe from this world.
Cynthia Neely is the winner of Bright Hill Press’s chapbook contest Passing Through Blue Earth (2016) and Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment’s chapbook contest Broken Water (2011). Her collection, Flight Path (2014), was a finalist in the Aldrich Press book contest. Hopewell Bay (2017), a single long hybrid poem, was awarded publication as a stand-alone chapbook by Seven Kitchens Press. Essays and creative non-fiction works appear in The Writers Chronicle, Terrain.org and Cutthroat Journal.