Hollis Seamon wrote a story in response to this piece:
Evening All Afternoon
“Wrong.” Marta gloats but does not smile.
“That bird is not called Hope? Damn. Please smile, Mama.”
The day chills. It’s been evening all afternoon. Still, the coat stifles. Marta sweats in her topping of bird, collar of bear. Her sick headache. Her constant pain. “Try again,” she says.
“Blithe spirit?” Rosellen twists something on her black camera. The trees behind her mother blanch. “Smile—a happy pose, to remember you by. Please?”
It’s as if the bird itself speaks: Wrong, wrong, wrong. Raptors don’t do rapture.
Rosellen tries again. “Raven? Nevermore?”
Claws dig into Marta’s scalp, sharper than a serpent’s tooth. “Never fear. You’ll inherit the coat, very soon. And this picture, I suppose,” she says. “And someday the bird will come to you. Too.”
Rectangle inside rectangle, edges neatly squared. But time tears away a corner, nicks an edge, inscribes creases.
Black and white do not reveal the color of her dim dried eyes.
“Almost done, Mama. Still time for a smile. Budgie? Tweety Bird? Jupiter? Trill?”
“Wrong! Always and forever wrong, Rosellen.”
The bird chimes in: Sickle in my claws and grave-grit in my craw. Come along.
Inside Marta’s skull, a blood-red blossom blooms.
Mama’s last words: “Have my eyes been plucked? Out?” Forever after, a puzzle to them all, those words.
Because Rosellen, even with camera at the ready, missed the shot. Rosellen failed to capture the moment when her mother’s head shot forth seven stars and her eyes lightnings and her shoulders, wings. When the bird and Mama’s spirit, together lighter than air, soared up to Heaven, or near it, as kingfishers catch fire and dragonflies draw flame. That little pinch of miracle. Before her mother fell. Missed.
It was snowing, and it was going to snow.
(With thanks to the poets whose words I filched: Emily Dickinson,“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers”; Percy Shelley, “To a Skylark”; Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”; William Shakespeare, King Lear; Christina Rossetti, “In Progress”; Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”; and Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” And to Becky Hagenston, whose story “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow” got me thinking about the mysteries of naming.)
Photo documentation by John Polak Photography.