The Season of Dying Birds — Harriet Sandilands

Two Women on the Shore (1898), Edvard Munch, Art Institute of Chicago, Clarence Buckingham Collection.

The Season of Dying Birds


From a distance, it might have looked like cross-species love making, a slow undoing of kisses, unravelling a knotted stitch with teeth. But then nearer, canines puncturing skin, gradually getting a taste for it; one wing completely dismembered. Blood on a muzzle. A beak gaping open and rasping and then wondering how much are we willing to do to save what is, after all, just one life. Soft downy feathers caught between mallow flowers and hundreds of ants closing in.


An email appears and it is from the mother of an old friend. A dying mother is almost indistinguishable from a living mother. A living mother, as a matter of fact, is also a dying mother but the living mother is studiously ignoring that fact, whereas the dying mother is sending an email to the oldest friend of her daughter, to say all the things she cannot say in ink, to say everything and nothing at all. The dying mother used to press me against her chest and I could feel the hard lumps of her double mastectomy. She also made Aga toast and big pots of tea. When one mother dies, it’s like they all die. 


In the courtyard, at the entrance to the bookshop, an egg smashed on the cobbled ground – albumen, yolk and the bald outline and bulging eye of an almost-bird. I bought my books and then went back outside under the pretext of smelling the jasmine climbing up the stone wall. But actually I wanted to see its little alien head, its body half curled up inside the shell still. I wanted to mourn it properly.


I am always saddest in Spring. Could it be that it’s just hay fever? Is it avoidable at all? The temperatures are rising and the hairs on my legs are already bleached blond. The light is leaking through the blinds, my body a filter for in-breaths and out-breaths; I notice the out-breaths more than the in-breaths. A jewellery box full of items whose stories I have forgotten and I am too bereft or embarrassed to ask. There are two St Christopher charms – for safe travels, for deliverance – and I can’t for the life of me remember which of them is the one she gave me. 


Renewing my passport seems the only sensible thing to do. Either renew it or destroy it so that I don’t keep confusing the new one with the expired one. Simplify the story. Tidy one drawer. Stretch the leg that hurts and only that one. It may not be the most holistic approach, but it’s certainly the most efficient. We can only stomach so much gloom. Dispose of wing. Read each letter twice. Write back. Write the response on a pillow case. Don’t wash the sheets. Pick the feathers up one by one and store inside an envelope. Return to sender. 

Harriet is a writer and art therapist living in the mountains outside of Barcelona. She writes poetry and prose which has appeared in Country MusicLibro RojoepoemaBarcelona InkHAU and Talking About Strawberries All Of The Time

She co-edits the annual Barcelona literary journal Parentheses, where her work has also appeared. Harriet’s interactive poetry experience The Poetry Machine has been showcased at art and literature festivals around Europe and has produced its own volume of poetry: Jorge’s Machinations. Harriet is currently editing a collection of poetry soon to be published by Palabrosa

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