December 2013

Three Crows

I don’t believe the dead concern themselves with those of us who are living. It is impossible to imagine they think about the way I hold my hands on this steering wheel while I am driving. And surely they couldn’t care less that I am on this flat stretch of highway, driving north toward Van Buren County and the tiny town where I grew into adulthood. The dead are partly dreaming and partly alive, my mother likes to think, though she also believes that three crows in the same tree portend bad fortune, that a muddy creek bed drying then cracking in summer means that someone will have a miscarriage. I lost my own child—a boy—in my sixth month of pregnancy, and surely there was a dry creek bed somewhere in the world, many of them, in fact, enough to wither a host of children in the womb. I am not alone in my grief, in other words. Probably I sound bitter, and I know I am, but my husband thinks that my sorrow is carrying me north from Arkadelphia—the name for this place where we are living—to visit my mother. My husband believes I am seeking comfort, but my mother and I will sit on her back porch and drink the sweet tea she learned to make as a girl in Mississippi, where she also learned that tragedies come in threes and you should spread the cut hair from your children outside the doors and windows of your house to ward off evil spirits. It’s been six weeks since Walter Michael Davis died, and in that time I have felt only the power of his absence. My mother phoned to say she hears my son in the sounds of the wind in tall grass, in the beautiful names of the birds and wild flowers she loves. My mother claims that, when my father died, he flew off with the Cooper’s Hawk we sometimes saw chasing birds in our back yard, that we heard calling from the woods. My mother said she could sense his presence in that call, and I envied her for that. So what do I plan to say when I arrive? We will sit on her back porch within sight of her birdfeeders, in sight of the creek that will be dried and cracked in the August drought, and I will ask her what it is she thinks I have done to deserve this. Did I walk into the shadow of a dark bird flying overhead? Did I allow an owl to perch on our roof while my husband and I were sleeping? I will tell her how much I resent the dead for the power they hold, resent her for imagining she is speaking to my dead son, for believing he exists half in this world and half in some other, as though his ghost is pressing forward toward my breast to feed.