We know what you are, say the pale birds who won’t leave my apartment, eldest daughter, you are no certain thing, telling me I inherited stove coils, a shit sense of humor, they are gaping mouths, curled fingers, flaws bundled in grandmother’s fabric, abuelita would never stand for this. I imagine she would unravel hundreds of feet of yarn-turned-leaf-buds, turned-red-flowers, ven aquí, she would say, dejame ver and together we’d rub ointment into the cracks in my skin. She is gone, I don’t have a lighter, I use my phone to illuminate her soul-space in pale blue light, I lay on her bed and open her drawers, I feel her heart draped over the apartment like a smooth July storm. The presence of a divine space is not lost on me, but I can’t reach the front door and I miss the man at the bodega who knows my order by heart, and I want to stuff sandwiches in my bra, can’t eat in front of mother, she no longer wants meat in the house. What about the chickens you loved? I ask her. She shrugs. They were only interesting for their heads, she says, kisses my neck, tells me I smell like pesuña, but now I am older, and I can’t remember if she meant horse hoof, or if she meant to say melon, or foot, or beak, or crushed crepe paper, or lo siento. I remember once I called her, to tell her I might be sick, might be gone, and she said, that’s your prerogative. When I ask my mother if she will ever abandon the upper West side, she laughs so loud on the phone my ears ring. I miss the loud nights, the oil, coco helado on the corner of Amsterdam and Broadway, one-oh-something. The red birds are still here, they are hearts, they are grief, reminding me of how I long for a crowded apartment space, the times my uncle came from Puerto Rico, and I was so nervous I lost half my Spanish, I tried to tell him about the drunk couple leering at me on the 1 train, how they found out I was a writer and told me about the time they went to see Jacques Derrida give a talk right before he died, he said the act of opening a book was like the moment an angel arrived and put her hand on a human hand holding a dagger. When I try to tell this story, I forget the word for wings, I forget the angel’s name, I wave my hands around and my family ignores me. This isn’t about him or him or him, it’s about [pero, cállate, it’s not time yet to admit your identity, no static thing, could get you thrown out of the home, remember when she told you not to tell the rest of the family?] Well, es que no me siento bien, decaying on the dining room rug, the birds are not my sisters but my exes, I can see hatred and scorn in their eyes. Mí corazón, you would be different, I know you wouldn’t ring the bell, we can’t alert the grandmothers. We were gathered in the dining room after abuelito’s funeral, sharing food. My cousin asked why everyone was upset; I told him gently that Jorge had passed away, and he said what are you talking about, he’s under the table. [I would bring you home with me, if I didn’t have to hide—but I’d have to hide.] I know you’d know to step on the molding in the hall, careful to avoid the creaking spots, you’d lift my head in the faded kitchen light and ask me where it hurts, it’s like I can only tell you how I feel when I’m tucked away inside a flaky pastry inside a box inside a deep red delivery bag, it smells nice in the places I hide desire, thought I’d be able to quell the ache when you approach but así es, a vulnerable and open wish that is me longing to be a feathered thing, bright, some might call me magnificent, you could take me home or you could just take me around on your shoulder, this could be worth it, but I’ve been banned from telling you, how do I reach you, how do I get out of here—there are only ghosts left and the paint peels and I can run but only so far.
Sam Moe (she/her) is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She is a 2021 recipient of an Author Fellowship from Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Converse College. Her work has appeared in The Hungry Ghost Project, Overheard Lit mag, Cypress Press, Gone Lawn, The Shore, and others.
“Grief Birds” was the winner of our 2022 Blurred Genre Flash Contest, judged by Lynn Steger Strong.