In Reflection


Gorgeous as they are, these windows are a deception. This is the view from the inside. The outside, a mirror. Birds die here.

Yesterday, within minutes of each other, a wren and a bluebird flew too hard too fast too confident into what they believed to be more of the same—a mirror of soft, green-leafed, cushioned tops of trees—and toward what must have seemed welcoming reflections of themselves. They crashed so hard it jolted us.

Reflection.  I’m thinking about mirrors, our reflections common beside a dining room table and inside the front doors of homes. To make the room feel larger or to make us feel less alone? A last place to check oneself before going out to face the world? A reflection of our faces coming home, of how our day has been lived, enjoyed, survived?

My grandmother, after her car accident with lip torn away and false teeth at 22, avoided all mirrors. Above her dining room table, an enormous  paint-by-numbers of The Lord’s Supper. Inside her front door, a narrow table upon which to throw keys and the mail and grocery lists written on the backs of envelopes. Loose change in a dish.  My homework.  Photos of the family members most in her favor.

When I was 13, I came home from school and within the hour my uncle’s Norwegian Elkhound had flung himself over my grandmother’s carport because he was scared and she would not let the dog in the house during a thunderstorm.  He squeezed through the railing, Nicky did, and jumped.  Just jumped.  His chain was too short.

I found Nicky. I can still see myself leaning over that railing and I can still hear myself screaming. When my uncle arrived to find his dog, his rage and his anger ricocheted from wall to wall in the house.

I held this, this one episode, against my grandmother for decades.

When walking my dog in the mornings, I listen to Mary Karr read her memoir LIT.  In the last paragraphs … “Gliding off a shop window I see my mother’s winged cheekbones and marble complexion and they halt me in my tracks. But it’s only my face, impersonating hers.”

In my driver’s license photo, I see my mother. Stern, unwilling, annoyed. Trapped for hours at the DMV. When I get out of the shower and comb back my gray-black hair, I see my grandmother. Her hairline. Her widow’s peak. My hairline. My widow’s peak.

Reflection.  I read Margaret Atwood’s poem “Siren Song”:

Shall I tell you the secret

and if I do, will you get me

out of this bird suit?

I don’t enjoy it here

squatting on this island

looking picturesque and mythical

with these two feathery maniacs,

I don’t enjoy singing

this trio, fatal and valuable.

This trio, fatal and valuable. My grandmother, my mother, me.

I think of Nicky now and wonder, why didn’t I sneak him into the house, hide him in the basement, bring him in against my grandmother’s will.  My grandmother is dead.  My mother is dead.  I find my own fault.

The birds keep coming, keep crashing into their reflections.

Tuesday I was in the kitchen when I heard the crash. Outside on the deck the bird lay whole and still, too still, neck broken, so I went to find a piece of cloth.

When I picked her up the bird was so warm, so soft, so green in her feathers, still like she was sleeping, just sleeping, and I held her as gently admiringly as I could, supporting her head the way you would hold a newborn.

I look up.  From the outside, from the bird’s view, I see the mirror, the reflection of the trees.  The calling.  I hold her, so fragile and so light, like air in my cupped hands.



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