from the series “The Empath Dies in the End”
1 The Cardinal (Amanda Crum)
“She’s never seen a cardinal,” the woman next to me says.
I turn to her but keep my eyes down. We’ve all learned new ways to give each other space as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, body odors twining like jungle vines across the concrete. I could pick any one of them out of a crowd by the smell of their sweat. The air is so close it feels wrapped in cotton batting.
The woman came in two days after I arrived, carrying a filthy two-year old girl with sweet fawn eyes. Since then we haven’t spoken much. Standing for hours, expending body heat to create a greenhouse behind chain-link; our energy is too precious to use up with words.
She leans against the fence, chin tilted into a regal pose. “We used to see them all the time as kids, in the woods near our farm. But this one, she grew up on the water. She could swim before she could walk.”
I smile and push away thoughts of all the things I’ve never seen: snow, New York City. The first smile of my own child, some future baby whose face has become clearer to me over the past 120 hours. My womb throbs, once, like a reflex.
There is no room for that here. Let your mind wander for a moment and suddenly you’re climbing over the links, flying over the city toward cool, breezy freedom. It projects across your features. The guards can spot it from a yard away.
“I keep thinking of all the things I want her to see when we get out of here,” the woman says. Her bottom lip trembles minutely, as though she’s cold. An impossibility in the swelter. “Do you think they’ll separate us?”
I wish I could say with some measure of certainty what they’ll do.
When they open the cell door I edge closer to the woman, curling my body around the baby. Outside in the heat a dog barks urgently; a time traveler from Home. His voice cuts through the din, a reminder of which one of us is caged. Still, my heart lifts from dry and brittle grasses, as a bird would do.
“Hear the doggy?” I whisper to the baby. My reward is a sleepy smile, fawn-eyes illuminated for the first time with something like joy.
Maybe I’ve found her a cardinal after all, I think.
Cardinal II (Raindrops peck down on a chamomile can) by David L O’Nan
A man, a rich desireless man, stands near the slick bridge
Contemplating that death is a dive, through a flight of thousands of cardinals he has to soar through.
If he wants to live, they’ll let him live.
If he wants to die, they’ll let him thrive.
A wonder if there is a cardinal for everybody?
I can’t find my garden through this armageddon.
I want my freedom, but my freedom is swarming in bullets and passerbys,
My freedom is jealousies and hesitancy.
My freedom is breathing deep and feeling messy.
I’m humbled when I begin to feel the earth again, once my body no longer wants to soar.
Raindrops peck down little pellets of water on a chamomile can.
I opened the door back to you, and you just shut my wings inside.
I tried to escape and you just left me high, fearful, and dry
I have to remember to become fearless and look you in that eye.
If I want to, If I want to, If I want to. Trust my blood to move like it should.
To trust my brain, to trust the spinning Earth to make some sense for once.
To hold my breath and evade the invasion of the addictions and the fumbling demons
Dropping bibles and passages on that slick bridge. Here I am, once again.
Here I wait. Will I have my friends? Will they come and rescue me away.
“What do you think I’d see if I could walk away from me” doo,do,do, wa
Note: last line from Candy Says by the Velvet Underground
https://amzn.to/3VRp8Kk Where Wild Beasts Grow by Amanda Crum