the birds come every september, teeming & pulsing in a rustle of black feathers & shining beaks. blot out the sky, swirl the world in claws, in wings. avian eclipse. we say they bring the end of summer. we say they gild their feathers with autumn & let it coast on their slipstream. wings churn wind, beaks screech thunder. if the flock seeps seamless across the sky, wheat grows tall & apples full—thin red skins bursting over swollen flesh. we heard this from our mothers, from their mothers, from theirs.
but now knowledge stains our minds—clouds our tale with wind patterns & air moisture. now the story crinkles with artifice between teeth, wrapped too tightly, too cleanly in plastic. still we spoon it to our children before they slide into sleep. we iron, fold, smooth it across their pillows to color their dreams. & when they become mothers, they will do the same.
a girl on south street caught a bird, says it fell from the sky—shred of shadow torn from body, life blooming from splintered bone & expiring in stagnant air. we snuck veiled comments, let the subject cling to conversation like burrs on lace. let it snarl & seethe until it cracked our lips & spooled at our feet. pulsing. endless.
other children, bored of faded dolls & secondhand bikes, crowded the bird. smeared it with sticky fingers, fogged the air with milk-warm breath. the girl brought it out & charged a dollar a viewing. scrap of a child folded green into clothes, stood with our heavy legs & tired arms, spread our words on her tongue & spit them like she’d never been without.
we pulled curtains shut, knotted age-blurred vines around knuckles, watched ceiling fans spin, felt
the world tilt, whirled on fractured wings, broken birds tail- spinning to the ground.
Stella Lei is a teen writer whose work is published or forthcoming in Interstellar Literary Review, Cathartic Literary Magazine, FEED, and elsewhere. She reads for Polyphony Lit and is an Editor in Chief for The Augment Review. She tweets @stellalei04.