face down in the earth

The day before another April snow, I traipse around the garden nudging a shovel into the ground searching for soft earth. Piles of ice, some as high as a couple of feet, remain in pockets of shade, but amid the thaw I see tulip tips and crocus buds pushing their way up through loose mulch.

Around the bend near the front of the house I nearly step on a bird. It must have hit the window and dropped onto the grass. On first glance I think it is a chickadee, but as I crouch down to study it, I realize I am wrong. I’ve never seen a nuthatch this close up and I am surprised by its downy bluish back and fluffy chest the color of peach flesh. Its black beak is sharp, its banded eyes closed, its little feet drawn up into its chest. Hoping it might still be alive, I gently turn it over searching for a heart beat, but there is none.

In a nearby bed I find a thawed spot at the base of a tree where I begin to dig a hole a spade’s length deep, and as I do I regard the bird which rolled face down when I laid it on the dirt. I right the bird and as I carve up the ground my mind flashes to the black man in the video from the morning news, Walter Scott, who was shot at by the white cop, the eighth bullet taking him down. The officer then cuffed the fallen man and left him, face down in the earth, to bleed out. Mr. Scott was unarmed, pulled over by the cop for a broken tail light on his car.

I look at the bird and wonder about its family, its mate, and consider how quickly its life came to an end, alone on the grass and found by a passerby. As I scoop piles of dirt and damp leaves onto the bird in the hole I think about what I’ll write, wondering if I should have taken a photo, then I recall all of the shots of found dead birds Michael has taken, and so I leave the bird, gently patting down its grave.

While writing this I listen to music woven with the songs of birds. A sadness washes over me knowing the man on the ground riddled with bullets will never sing and dance with his family again. I jump when a chickadee hits the window, craning my neck to watch it zip into a nearby tree. I try to imagine how many birds smash into glass each day. Some of them survive the hit, merely grazing the panes. We don’t discover them all, but thousands must run into trouble each day, and I am reminded that it’s the same for black and brown boys and men, our American brothers, being stopped and harassed, tasered, choked and shot by white cops in a game of racial chess where blacks are pawns. The majority of hits likely fly beneath the media's radar, their truths buried under a corrupt criminal justice system. Like birds into glass, some survive the blind assault though come away stunned, while others end up face down, then at least six spade lengths deep into the earth.

Photo by Michael Kolster

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