The Iowa Review

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Other Birds The Fall

Amy Rowland

- amy rowland

I.Bohumil Hrabal, feeding pigeons, leaned out too far on the ledge and fell to his death. Poor pigeons, hated for so much, and now Hrabal’s death, too.

II. We have never solved the problem of humans falling. Three million years ago, Lucy, of the species Australopi­thecus afarensis, died, scientists think, after a fall, probably from a tree.

III. Arrested falling is how Schopenhau­er referred to walking. Birds don’t fall. Well, mostly. When I was in third grade, a bird fell out of its nest in a dogwood tree in our yard. My neighbor Tabby and I found him on the ground, naked, pink, and featherles­s, but alive. We put him in a shoebox with some pine straw, and Tabby took him home and left him on her windowsill where he froze to death. She said she didn’t leave the window open, but I know she did.

IV. When walking around my old neighborho­od in Brooklyn one day, a man told me to be careful, that an angry blue jay was “dive-bombing” him. I wondered why this bird was watching me, he said, and then he attacked.

V. I’ve only been attacked in Brooklyn once. It was mean mommies, who told me and my niece that they were taking over the park for a kindergart­en party. I have had problems in life that some have attributed to meekness, so I said that we would leave when we finished our bagels. They descended on us like the Pink Ladies and said we had to leave! Now! Things got heated, including my poor niece’s face, and we ended up being chased away by the mean mommies as they yelled that I was setting a terrible example for my daughter, while a group of five-yearolds stood around gaping like the Central Park boy in the Diane Arbus photo.

VI. I left Brooklyn, but I remembered those women, who remind me of mean girls from high school, when I first felt affinity with birds. Killdeers liked to lay eggs in the rocks of my high school parking lot. The eggs blended with the gravel, and if you got too close, the killdeers would run around dragging their wings to distract prey. They enlisted

other killdeers, too, and sometimes when I pulled in to park, there were several birds dragging their wings and running around franticall­y.

VII. During a summer in Massachuse­tts, I learned that male birds have the brightest plumage. Most adults already know that, but I’m often late to the game. I was living with a man who turned out to hate women, but like I said, I’m not always the early bird on useful knowledge. I liked to sit at this man’s desk and watch the goldfinche­s at the birdfeeder. The beautiful males ate the thistle seeds greedily. They never fell. I appreciate­d the way the females could be drab and nonchalant, and the males would strut and fluff and sometimes the females would give them a chance.

VIII. Robert, the man who hated women, said he noticed me because I was reserved. This was somewhat true. I didn’t wear jewelry. All of my shirts had sleeves. I’m a little less severe now, though I plan to be severe again soon. We knew a Portuguese poet who arrived at the local coffeeshop every morning dressed for a long hot night at a Brazilian nightclub. She was as effective as a male goldfinch. (Entering Robert’s one day, poet’s dress on his couch, dress owner in his bed.) Robert liked to shock his students with the story of a boy who is aroused by a giraffe.

IX. I loved the rolling Berkshire farmland, the hemlocks and blueberry bushes, the quickly evolving generation­s of Canadian geese. I loved early morning, and the melting cobweb-colored mist. Once, Robert said, “Do you know where my mind is when we’re lying in bed? It migrates to you.” But minds, like ghosts and woodpecker­s, don’t migrate.

X. Geese migrate, though not as much as they once did. I live in a frightenin­gly, numbingly pretty little town. It has a nice canal towpath, where I like to run. The Canadian geese hiss if I step too close. I understand, as they start spring with eight goslings and then dwindle down to two. So I admire their heavy waddled hissieness.

XI. People here are acquiring Silkie chickens. When the Silkies are chicks it is almost impossible to know whether they are hens or roosters. So there are many roosters for sale on Craigslist.

XII. Killdeers do not hate slender-legged mammals, as far as we know. Someone just thought their sad cry sounded liked “Kill deer! Kill deer!” I imagined they were calling “Not here! Not here!”

XIII. In the fifth grade, I was in the church Christmas program. I was supposed to recite the poem Jesus’s Birthday while holding a chocolate layer cake my mother had made. I was on stage, sweating in the spotlight, when the woman who played the piano came out to light the cake candles, but she couldn’t and finally told me, Hurry up and recite. She walked off, and I was standing there with the heavy cake with unlit candles and yellow frosting that spelled out Happy Birthday, Jesus! The poem flew right out of my head. Finally, I said, I forgot. After we had eaten our potluck dinner at the Fire Department because the church didn’t have a reception hall, we went home. My sister had two parakeets that had refused to talk to us and just chattered away to each other, though I liked to translate for them. You forgot! You forgot! We had put a blanket over their cage before church because my parents didn’t like to waste heat, and it was cold in the South that Christmas. The parakeets were dead, but my parents said it wasn’t anybody’s fault. We buried them in the yard.

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