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Raven Versus Crow

“If a raven got in a fight with a crow,
who would win?” my son asks.
“Why would a raven fight a crow?” I ask.
“It’s a strawberry,” my son says. “They’re fighting over fruit.”
“It’s hard to imagine a fight over a strawberry,” I say.
“Animals fight over food,” my son says.
“Yes,” I say, “but a strawberry? It wouldn’t be a very serious fight.”
“Oh, it’s serious,” my son says. “To the death.”
“I don’t think ravens and crows fight to the death,”
I say. “Can’t they just go find other strawberries?
Look around. It’s June. Strawberries everywhere.
The air smells like strawberry wine, which you are never
allowed to have because of the alcohol.
I don’t think birds fight to the death,” I add.
“These birds fight to the death,” my son says,
“over strawberries, even when there are strawberries
everywhere, even when it smells like strawberry wine,
which I am never allowed to have, because of the alcohol.”
He looks at me, patiently, watching me weigh the odds.
“You know the raven is bigger,” I say.
“So the raven would win?” he says.
“Not so fast,” I say. “Crows might have other crow buddies
around. But can’t one bird chase off the other -
why does it have to be to the death?” I ask.
“Because I’m nine,” my son says.
This explains everything, except:
“How does my choice matter?” I ask.
“I mean, this whole conversation is pretend.
There’s no raven, no crow, no strawberry,
no fight, no death. There’s definitely no death,” I say.
“It’s a very important strawberry,” he says.
“I’m not sure I can finish this conversation,” I say.
“As your mom, it’s necessary that I address
the reality of death in a way that’s age-appropriate
and acknowledges the inevitability
of our eventual demise. Death is not a joke.
It’s not a casual topic of conversation,” I say,                                  
“and you know how fond I am of birds.
How could I ever pit ravens against crows?
It would be like pitting my children
against each other,” I say.
“So the crow wins?” he asks.
I say, “Not on your life.”


Downed Limb

The deer’s eating an oak limb as if it were a salad
or something juicier, strawberries with crème freche.
Evidence of early winter’s hunger.
The leaves papery brown, exact color of the deer.
It looks like it’s eating itself,
working away at its shoulder, glancing up
to make sure no one else wants to eat it.
When we consume ourselves, of course
we think no one cares enough to watch.
The girl in high school who carved “gypsy”
into her arm with her own blood font –
well, everyone had one of those classmates,
her eyes more drawn each day
until she vanished and we, her not-really-friends
from French, would briefly wonder.
It never occurred to us to express our adolescent
warblings of compassion or cross into the world
of adults and ask them to look up.
Across the road, there’s half a deer.
Just the front half, with no drag marks
for the back half through the snow.
Perhaps another doe that began consuming
herself and couldn’t quit. Or she thought
someone would stop for her, eventually,
a truck driver with a great big heart.
He’d call out: Deer, you don’t have to do that.
You’ve got my attention. I see you. I see you.
I see you.


The Side of the Box Says “Flame-Resistant Leadership”

In the box must be – what? Something asbestos
or a suit made from dragon’s scales,
and why aren’t firefighters’ outfits
made out of water, my daughter wants to know
after the fire on Route 9 burns down
Mi Tierra and a bakery. That fire started
in the laundromat, a woman’s clothes so low-cut
and scandalous they burst into flame –
what my mother told me would happen
in that outfit in the generational
shaming of daughters. Close your legs.
That’s a different kind of fire that women are told
to control, put it out or put out, and isn’t it odd
that the word “leadership” never once enters the bedroom
even though someone is taking someone else by the hand?
In all scenarios, we hope there’s a gentleness,
the willingness for both to bend over the tiny flame and blow.
Mi Tierra was owned by the Sosa family
recently immigrated, all their money, gone.
We think of the money. We think of those burritos.
We can’t help ourselves and we think of the burritos again.
In the dryer, the hoochie skirt spinning
until the men’s boxers get dizzy, and after that, well,
it’s really not his fault. My mother said You don’t want men
looking at you the wrong way. What she meant was
my father. What she meant was it would be on me.
Mi Tierra means, of course, my land,
the hedgerows trimmed, the lawn respectable,
what made me a woman hidden,
the clothing loose and baggy and long.
The flames doused. What’s left is a black scar
hemmed by a parking lot where the asphalt
bubbled as if it were brand new
and firefighters left their footprints.
All around the edges, the footprints of women and men
and it’s clear they were walking backwards,
away from the heat that hustled like a pair
of short shorts toward them, like a girl
with her lips puckered and coming toward them
and a kiss no one wanted.


image: Aaron Burch