alone but not

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what it’s like.

our three baby chicks are put together in a box. maybe never having known each other until now, they huddle together, three heads each working to get under another one’s wing. they find the light and huddle under it. too cold or scared or new to sit down, they sleep standing up. for a moment they are all asleep, then one peeps and the other two wake up. for another moment they are all asleep, then one teeters and the other two wake up. for a moment they are all scratching around on their own, then one cheeps and the others come running. for a moment they are all in the cage, then one flies out and they all call. in piercing long calls, the one out of the cage calls, another one flies to the ledge and calls, another one is left behind and calls. all desperate for each other, not sure who should make the next move.

there were three girls coming and going from an apartment down the street that someone was moving out of. they must be the grandchildren or friends or the daughters of a cleaning woman. i walked my route and on the way home saw them ahead of me on the sidewalk. they must have permission to go to the park, they were probably bored, the youngest one getting in the way. i was gaining on them and saw how it was: the youngest one was no more than four. she had on a long dress and shoes so dainty she could have been barefoot. she stopped every few feet, poking at this, picking up that. i never saw her face, her long hair acting as a veil. no one talked to her or told her what to do. the middle one must have been seven. she looked straight ahead, eyes on where they were going. she stopped when the little one stopped, i never saw her face either. the oldest one was about 13. she looked ahead and behind and all around. she stopped every time the little one stopped. she stood vigil to her play and kept the coast clear. i knew she had seen me, i knew the others hadn’t. i didn’t want me or my dog to give them anything else to do. but before i could make my move to cross the street, the oldest one picked up the littlest one, making eye contact with me. and as though looking in a mirror, i sheepishly smiled and waved at them, my voiced “hi” no more than a whisper. with barely the raise of her fingers she waved back.

i lift the stump, wanting to create a half circle around the fire with stump seats for five. without thought, i utter an apology. they are scattering franticly. on the bottom of the stump, on the ground beneath, with no regard for the now split tunnels they used to travel. in seconds they’ve moved up and out and around me. the very moment i lifted the stump, it was too late to put it down. things had immediately changed. to stay alive the stump couldn’t be set down where had been even one second before. their own stump would kill them if i put it back.

i’m on the road and one lone bird sits on the wire. i see her and since i like to believe she sees me, i telepathically thank her for being there. i practice my quiet walking in hopes i don’t startle her off. triumphantly, i get right beneath her, then she goes. and then she stops again, on the wire a few feet ahead. then i get beneath her, and then she goes. and then she stops. and then i get beneath. and then she goes. and then she stops. and then i get beneath. and we walk like this for a magically long time. and then i look at her. say thank you outloud and then she goes. all the way.

i’m on another sidewalk and see i’m parallel to a deer in the field, a well traveled two lane street between us. she’s way out there, but we see each other, and both start walking north. she has a limp. i call my husband because someone should know. i keep her pace. she stops. i stop. look at each other. she limps forward, i keep her pace. she stops. i stop. look at each other. again with keeping her pace, stopping, looking. again. and then i decide to stop watching. i can see out of the corner of my eye she’s limping forward. she stops. i keep going. i like to think she made it to the tree line.

this is what it’s like. fragmented parts of me nudging each other, leaning on each other, falling on each other, keeping each other awake. parts of me oblivious in created safety, parts of me focused on the task at hand, parts of me vigilant, looking everywhere at once. watching, keeping pace, catching up, exposed and scattered with no option to go back. alone but not.

the chicks have grown for a few weeks. the heat lamp is gone. they push their bedding out of the way and are content on the cardboard. my tip-toeing into the dark kitchen to start the coffee doesn’t wake them anymore. now they sleep splayed out, heads awkwardly to the side. alone but not.

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Nuthatch

by Kirsten Dierking

What if a sleek, grey-feathered nuthatch
flew from a tree and offered to perch
on your left shoulder, accompany you

on all your journeys? Nowhere fancy,
just the brief everyday walks, from garage
to house, from house to mailbox, from
the store to your car in the parking lot.

The slight pressure of small claws
clasping your skin, a flutter of wings
every so often at the edge of vision.

And what if he never asked you to be
anything? Wouldn’t that be so much
nicer than being alone? So much easier
than trying to think of something to say?

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