Where Birds Go

There’s a place on campus where the birds go to die. I can’t say why they choose the spot, or how it fits into the strange web of their avian philosophy.  But I can say, truly and simply, that they go there. I’ve seen them littered amongst the stones between buildings like fallen leaves, on their sides, as if in sleep. But a bird has never slept so, and their small black eyes are open and empty.

Sometimes people step past them, or over them, their feet nearly crushing the poor creatures in brutal ignorance as they talk, punch inane messages into their phones, or simply tilt their heads up toward the sky, enjoying the warmth of the morning. I wonder, when I see this, how often I drift by, oblivious, my own feet a wing’s-breadth away from grinding feather and bone beneath my sneakers, boots. Sandals.

Sometimes they do see the birds, and they jump, shriek, or yell. I once saw a pair of girls kneeling next to a tiny corpse, wondering, as I do, about its fate, before picking themselves up and carrying on with barely a glance behind.

I move them. Alone in the sunlit plaza, I draw out a sheet of loose leaf or an old exam, drop my messenger bag and crouch next to the bird, scooping it as gently as I can manage without risking a touch. I don’t fear disease, or insects, or blood (there’s never blood). No, I (like most people I suppose) simply can’t stomach the thought of touching death.

I can’t quite say why I risk it, then. Why I lift them up with just a thin sheet protecting my hands, carry them ever so carefully to a nearby planter or bush. Why I lower them (ever so carefully) into the dirt, sliding the paper out from under them, trying not to roll them, to leave their best side facing upward. (Though if they do roll, inadvertently, I can never reach out and risk touching to roll them back. There they lie.) All I know is that if I don’t move them, the sound of crunching starts to echo in my ears, and won’t leave me in peace for the rest of the day. The crunching of bones, delicate bird bones, hollow and light and far too fragile to risk soaring through the air, to risk leaving underfoot.

I’ve never heard the sound of a bird’s crushing bones. In my mind it’s like biting into a Pringle: that violent, decisive crunch as something small and so breakable is ground away by a much heavier object. If I walk away and leave the birds to the mercy of absent-eyed students (elephant-sized students, bumbling blue whales with feet), it’s as if I can feel the bones crushing, see that fragile skull collapsing, and all around me like a crescendo of wild drums comes the crunch crunch crunch of Pringle-bones while the blood (there’s never blood) starts to seep out onto the pale stone.

Why do the birds choose here to fall?  Veering with focused precision into the glass-walled overpass that connects the buildings of space and science.

This isn’t the corner of campus for poetry, philosophy, or existential musing.  They fall.  I move them.  And I’m able to carry on.


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