by Sean Ruane
Say you are out in the woods raking leaves. If approached by a cloud of birds, do not walk through them; take pains to avoid confrontation, give a smile. With an open hand offer a stone that reflects the sky and hope that these are nostalgic birds. Rake more, but with an air of a man accustomed to, but not wholly indifferent to their ways. Maybe say something, but say what you mean. The old dress in painted layers, some adorned as rose bushes, some as tangles of Scotch Broom. Loose threads on clothing or flesh, flaunt them and be unwound like taffy, an empty marionette left leaning against a rake, falling into a nonchalant tumble of corduroy and flannel. Keep raking. If through an emergent hive mind they decide to form a hand that extends affably from the cloud, say you’ve got a cold, but use a monotone to avoid insincerity. Make believe you’re a genteel rustic or back-forty automaton, unworthy of a perch. Do not make tree noises, obviously, or whistle, unless you can endow the tune with the robotic timbre of an electronic falcon, which is rare. The old squint. If the cloud of birds sits on a nearby stump to admire an owl you are possibly in even greater danger. There will be the awkward sense that you should say something, anything; would you like iced tea, bird cloud? Please, help yourselves. Black wings are beaten against hollow chests; bird lice float off into the air to form much smaller clouds that, though innocuous, should also be avoided, for consistency. Nice owl. Your rake is little consolation. Falconry gloves for swatting; you wish you had some. Some secrets can be entrusted to leaves and gathered into piles for burning.
You reach for the birds with the teeth of the rake, exposing ribbons of skin. Remember, layers. The cloud extends a malformed hand, grey as ash, and tugs at what you’ve offered, raveling, retracting; you slowly unwind as the bird cloud floats away, past the owls and broken kites, up into the air. Old men are busy planting the bundles of snipped clothing the children find inside the tree line. They look up from the fields; to them it looks as though the forest has set loose another giant black balloon, and they know to keep digging, even when it bursts into noise and falls away.