Murder in the Orchard
Radical Society, Fall 2006, Volume 32, Issue 3 (print edition only)
Nobody wants to handle the dead bird,
its beak cracked as an omen.
We read a tear, or is it only
the implacable glass of the eye, watching?
None of us comes even near
the limp body in the dirt.
We circle around. We’re lost and found
in the death of this bird, this nameless
thief, insinuating itself into our day,
demanding a proper burial, as if
all dead birds should be given one.
We shed its share, tears that are
pretend or not, wiping the snot on the sleeves.
We find guilt everywhere. The crumbs
we gather for the agape are stuck
in our throats—the sweeter the strawberries
doused in sugar and sour cream. Those we eat
with dirty hands, dirty nails, dirty thoughts.
We might never be absolved of our sin,
but God, is it sweet!
The body still lies in the dust.
We trust one of us will eventually bring it
to its grave, which we dutifully dig out with sticks—
a cradle for the black shiny feathers, the smooth
down of the small skull, the one open eye.
Leaves go in, chosen if not with love,
then with utter attention to their texture, their softness.
Some straw somebody snatched off
the stable floor. Some sheep’s wool,
whitening in the stone trough by the well.
More feathers go in. A chicken is being plucked
in the kitchen, blood and guts everywhere,
cats licking their paws.
This is life and nobody knows
of our own desperate ritual. The slingshot
is lost in the weeds, not to be found again
before the next harvest, when some boy
will bow to its weathered sheen.
The eyes will bulge with wonder.
The mind will think of the kill.