Creative Nonfiction: Augury by Sara Quinn Rivara

 

To begin is a bird. Knife-wound sky. A bruise. The wet expanse of a spring morning—daffodil, bloodroot. You are folding laundry, hummingbirds buzz the viburnum. I don’t know how to ask you to help me to not be afraid.

***

There is a straight line in my mind between occurrence and calamity. If there is a gun in the first act, by the third someone will be dead. I know how stories work: no one locks it away, forgets it in a drawer, removes it from the house forever. Why mention it if you don’t mean it? What I mean is: I must prepare myself for the worst. Three chickadees at the feeder, scrub jay in the cedar.

***

Your shoes left wet smears on the sidewalk: five minutes’ walk to the hospital, the cheery nurses, the radiation machine. You text me a picture: someone stuck an oompa-loompa sticker to the peaceful lake above the table. When I imagine it, though, what I see is only water.

***

For dinner we eat toast and new eggs, a glass of whiskey. The scent of cherry blossoms drifts through the screen. Our life hangs in-between, mist strung on cedar. At night I origami myself small as a bird. Your hands caress my shoulders. You kiss my neck.

***

On the way to work, I see cormorants crouched on a dead tree in the river, brown

with spring runoff. All the streams are fast and cold and I read miracles everywhere: heron in the pond, the tarot which says fecundity, blessing, sword. Fear salts my tongue. Let me see a bird if… I ask. I don’t know if it is prayer, or riddle, or spell. Three hawks on highway lamp-posts. Seventeen crows in the deodar cedar.

***

The first thing I noticed when I moved to Portland were the crows, rivers streaming across the evening sky, how slowly they hopped out of the road despite my approaching car. Woodsmoke smelled different than the Midwest where I had been lonely. Hellebore and witch hazel blooming.  In the afternoon after the radiation room, you pick up our boys from school. I think: how strange it is to feel safe.

***

To begin is the bloodrose of radiation, the cold quiet of the cancer-center lobby. The litany of doctors, surgeons, radiologists. I fill a notebook. So many men nodding. At night, you sleep easily and smell of wet earth, summer air.

***

What I was prepared for was my own breakage; a return of cells blooming on my cervix, everything I’d done in twenty years taken away from me. I did not expect you to be on the table. Maybe you should have, my worst mind tells me. You can’t expect joy.

 ***

Love burns a small circle between my breasts.

***

Time churns into cream. Back at the hospital, oncology, brachytherapy, prostate, metastasis slide over our tongues like peeled eggs. Then you are wheeled off, and I wait for your number to appear on the little screen: prep, in surgery, in recovery. Somewhere, radiation blooms inside of you, little seeds, rosettes of light.

***

Starlings and house sparrows argue in the bushes by the sliding doors of the cancer ward. I wait for hours while the doctors put a hundred radioactive seeds inside of your body. When I asked them if you will glow in the dark, nobody laughs but you.

In the parking garage, a thrush sings. When you wake up, you flirt with the nurses. You lean on my arm, hum a little when we drive home, then whimper as I help you up the stairs and into the dark bedroom. So many song sparrows in the trees.

***

Any place seems like home after a while, so why not hope? Maybe there is no gun. Maybe it is locked away. Maybe no one will take it out and use it today.

***

To begin is a bird. Cormorant, scrub jay, vireo. Two great blue herons perched above Beaver Creek I want to believe mean it’s okay. Mean relax into this good life. But. I want to tell you a prayer: how hope works like a scythe, a flower unfurling into bloom, a tree swallow returning each spring, wings curved as knives—

Sara Quinn Rivara is the author of two books, Animal Bride (Tinderbox Editions) and Lake Effect (Aldrich Press). Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared recently in Sugar House Review, Rogue Agent, West Branch, Whale Road Review, West Trestle, and numerous other places. She lives and works in the Pacific Northwest with her family.

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