The Perplexities of Dead Birds and Green Mold
My mother is cleaning out the fridge
When there is a thump
Like a gravedigger's final pat
On the soil covering a coffin
In a graveyard filled with stones
And all the windows shake.
My aunt looks up from where
She is playing Ring Around the Rosie
With my little sister and nieces
Do you think she knows
That game is about death?
So many omens.
She goes out to the front porch
And is gone for a few moments
When she comes back
There is something cradled between her cupped hands
Something small and feathery
She walks into the kitchen
And shows my mother
Who is still kneeling in front of the fridge
Surrounded by long since spoiled hamburger
And the lasagna in the back of the fridge
That everybody forgot about.
"Look at this," my aunt says
With the slightly hollow tone
Of someone who is in the presence
Of a capsule devoid of life
And will soon forget about it
Like it never had breath in the first place.
She shows my mother what rests
In the fragile casket she has made with her hands
It's a bird
A little thing of feathers
Who worried like us
But perhaps had more freedoms.
"Oh," my mohter says
Tone trapping the same counterfeit sorrow
As my aunt had
In that "Oh" a cage is constructed
Capturing a shadow of
The real thing.
"Poor little guy must've flown in the window,"
My aunt says
Already wondering if by providing
A makeshift casket for the body
That is not quite cold yet
She has caught some form of disease.
The instinct to protect the children
From knowledge about corpses
As though it will save them from inevitability
Has not yet kicked in for my aunt or mother
And so my sister and nieces' curiosity
Compells them to enter the kitchen.
There is nothing false about
Their horrified exclamations
Children are not accustomed to loss
They have not yet learned
To pretend it does not exist
Their pain is real.
It is my aunt's job to distract them
She promises the children
That later they will hold a funeral for it
And she ushers them into the living room
Where, huddled on the couch,
They will all watch a movie with a happy ending.
The bird is set on the kitchen counter
On top of a paper towel
As my mother continues with the task
Of separating the acceptable things
From all the things we leave behind
My mother reaches inside the cheese drawer
And huffs a sigh thinking on
How later she will lecture the children
Not to waste food
They will not listen
She will do it anyway.
Next to the bird
She places what she has drawn from the drawer
A sandwich bag
Containing a half eaten block of cheddar
Most of the cheddar is no longer recognizable
But sprouting green mold.
It is absurd in a sense
That such a pairing should occur
The bird, body stiffening, eyes glassy
But still containing vestiges of shock
The mold, so thriving, so bright
So much left to it.
But on the other hand
It makes a strange sense
The bird will at dusk tomorrow
Be placed in a cardboard box and committed to the Earth
The cheese will be tossed in the compost bin
Both will be left to rot.
How we treat our dead
With more care, dignity, and respect
Than we treat our living.