A Thousand Words: Baby BirdsJuly 6th, 2009
by Lenore Zion
LOS ANGELES, CA-
I’d say my life started at the approximate moment that my identical twin sister died next to me in my mother’s womb.
After that, it moves all over the place. But that was the key moment, right then. And it, being the key moment, has peppered every other moment in my life.
Before grade school – kindergarten, I believe: I took piano lessons with a woman whose age I cannot remember. She forbade her students to touch the keys of the piano. We were “dirty little children,” and we could not be trusted to keep her piano, which was not actually her piano, but the school’s piano, clean. Instead, we played “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” pounding out each note on the wooden plank that covered the keys when the piano was shut.
From this teacher, I learned almost no piano – not a huge shock – but I did learn that I had murdered my twin sister. After class one day, she pulled me aside.
“No one will tell you the truth, but I will,” she said. “You are a murderer. Your twin sister is dead because you made her dead when you sucked the oxygen out of her inside your mother’s belly.”
This, as it turns out, was not true, as one fetus cannot suck oxygen from another fetus. Because a human fetus is not a feline character in an old wives’ tale. But what did I know?
I didn’t know much.
I didn’t know what it meant that my twin sister died before she was born. She was never born. How could she have died when she was never born? Doesn’t one invariably come before the other?
On a holiday – some holiday, I can’t remember which one – my mother, frazzled from being the mother of five living children and one dead child, lost focus and dropped me off for school to a locked and empty building. And she didn’t come back, at least not immediately, so I took a walk. There was a path lined with Sycamore trees. There was an illness going around in Sycamore trees that season. They were all falling ill, and inexplicably dying. Their leaves withered, and their branches drooped, and as a result, birds’ nests that once comfortably rested in the crooks of the trees, shifted. Sometimes, the nests would shift enough that an egg would fall from the tree.
That day, wandering alone, I came across an egg - that had fallen from its nest - which had shifted from its position on the tree - which was curling up and dying. This egg had cracked in half, revealing the fetus of a bird, drooped over the edge of the shell. The shell, though open, had pieces held together by a clear film. A string of this clear film was suspended between two large pieces, and on this string rested the baby bird’s crooked head.
I crouched down, hands on the ground, chin between my knees, and stared. I thought and thought and thought, and I eventually I laid belly down on the cold cement of the pathway, my face no more than a couple of inches from this tiny, dead, fetal bird.
Its skin was transparent beige. It had no feathers. Its eyes were closed. Its beak was closed. Its veins were dark. Its wings were bare. There was no blood. It just rested, broken, but not damaged, on the edge of the shell.
I thought then, after watching it do nothing, after watching it be dead, I thought: “Ah ha! Dead without ever having been born.”
And that’s when I noticed just how human this little bird looked. My God, did it look human! It was nothing but a tiny little bird-human, and it had died before it was born.
So I rolled over next to it, onto my back, and I smiled and I smiled and I looked up at the sky through the branches of the Sycamore trees that were bending and dying, releasing baby bird-humans to fall to their deaths, before they were able to be born. And it felt like they were falling all around me, though really, none were falling, not after the first one, but Goddamnit , it felt like they were raining from the sky.
All of these birds. Dead without ever having been born. Killed by the Sycamore trees that refused to hold them carefully.
Trees can’t be evil. They can’t be; they produce oxygen, they give life. But these Sycamore trees were tossing these baby birds to their deaths, and they were killing them, just like I’d killed my twin sister. But trees can’t be evil. And if the trees weren’t evil for killing these birds, then I wasn’t evil for killing my twin sister.
I used my fingernails. I clawed through the dirt in the ground beneath the Sycamore trees. I dug a hole, a nice, deep hole, and I buried the baby bird inside. I put it to rest, telling the tiny bird it had not been murdered, no, it had just died before it was born, and it was okay.
That’s when my mom came back to get me.
Since then, it’s like these baby birds really are raining from the sky – I see them everywhere. And I dig a hole in the dirt with my fingers, and I lay these not murdered baby birds to rest, and I tell them it’s okay.