The Pas­sage Bird

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Deb­o­rah wil­lis

When Shiri was grow­ing up, her fam­ily lived so close to the air­port that the bones of the house shiv­ered when planes passed over­head. From her bed­room win­dow, she saw the Fraser River; from the liv­ing room, the run­ways. She could tell time by rum­bles in the walls. The year was 1971, Shiri’s fa­ther worked as an air­line me­chanic for Boe­ing, and they lived in one of the small, iden­ti­cal houses built for com­pany em­ploy­ees. Two par­ents, two chil­dren: a fam­ily con­structed to fit the house. Like ev­ery other dwelling on that block, it had three bed­rooms, one bath­room, an un­fin­ished base­ment, and a front yard with a young cedar tree. Her par­ents ap­pre­ci­ated the uni­for­mity of the street. It con­firmed that Canada was a new, safe, clean con­ti­nent. As a child in Ger­many, her fa­ther had seen an Al­lied pi­lot drop from a burn­ing plane, grace­ful as a diver un­til the para­chute failed to open. Hirsch was six years old, the same age as Shiri now, and he never for­got the sight of the pi­lot’s body hit­ting the ground—a crunch of bones, limbs bent at un­nat­u­ral an­gles. That’s when Hirsch de­cided that the world needed com­pe­tent me­chan­ics and engi­neers, men who could fix prob­lems, save lives. Now he came home each evening smelling of ex­haust, his hands smeared with grease that could never be scrubbed clean. When he picked Shiri up, she buried her face in his over­alls and smelled the sour odor of fumes, of flight. She’d never been on a plane, but when her fa­ther lifted her in his arms, she imag­ined taxi­ing down the run­way and ris­ing smoothly into the air. “She’s meant to fly,” said the Hawk Man. “I can tell.” He too worked at the air­port, fly­ing his hawks and fal­cons on the run­way to keep smaller birds away from the planes’ en­gines and win­dows. And though her par­ents didn’t ob­serve Shab­bat af­ter mov­ing to North Amer­ica—they kept their her­itage to them­selves—the Hawk Man’s Fri­day evening vis­its were a kind of rit­ual. His truck pulled up in front of the house, the en­gine cut out, and Shiri and her brother, Dann, ran to the win­dow. The Hawk Man! The Hawk Man! they shouted as he strode, lean and con­fi­dent, to­ward the house. He al­ways had a bird with him, perched on his gloved hand. A leather hood cov­ered its eyes. “Good evening, Hirsch.” The Hawk Man shook her fa­ther’s hand. When sober, the two men were for­mal with each other. Stand­ing on

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