We have lemon drops and beer. And so far,
we’re ahead of the storm. Mile after mile, railroad ties slide
in forlorn piles next to the tracks as if it took too much energy
to stay put. A coyote jumps for a mouse, pheasants
brighten. November snow sugars the tops of cows. Acres and acres
of freeze-dried sunflowers. I am helping my friend go home,
which sounds better than it is.
Her second marriage ended like the first.
And her daughter is with her father in Arizona.
And she left both for Minnesota during a polar vortex.
Somewhere near the Badlands, kamikaze birds rise
from camouflage to flap madly at the snow, steering
at the last minute to the fields. Flock after flock after
flock of northern rough-winged swallows ascend from safety
in dark clouds, frantic and disoriented. Have they ever seen a car?
The last bird of each flock tips at the last minute to float
sideways over the top. The first bird careens into the windshield,
thwack and smear. I assure myself it couldn’t possibly happen
again. Not twice. What’s the protocol? My brother would stop,
my friend says, gather feathers and eat the bird to honor its spirit.
But the shoulders of this two-lane highway are iced. So two
white women on The Rosebud Indian Reservation in a white
Subaru with packages of Creminelli Whiskey salami and Boschetto
cheese wrapped in brown paper keep flying along.
Two divorces each, young daughters, lovers out of reach.
As we mow through the flocks, the second bird thuds against glass.
Green guts, brown organs, down low. How many deaths in one day?
And like those foolish birds that opt for flight over security,
I think of the time my beloved and I were knitted together,
tucked in the velvet insides of a long-necked gourd
waiting out the rain. Thunder revving like an engine.
The first time, no one could blame me. Sheer numbers
alone, hundreds, one windshield. The second time I knew better.
Knew it would stick. I should have swerved, slowed down,
anticipated the waves of panic that dart and weave.
I’ve already taken too many wrong turns, and we’re running out
of time. My friend finds a burned white votive in her backpack,
balances it on the dashboard and lights it.
We pray for forgiveness at 60 mph during a ground blizzard in Sioux Lakota country.
After, there are no more flocks.
We are left with two smears that glow blue as the sun sets.
The sky electric pink, then purple, illuminating the price of every choice we’ve made.
Published in Talking River, Winter 2016