2021 Pushcart Prize Nominee
At the rough edge of the field the couple erected a steel-hooped polytunnel. The morning after it was ready to propagate their seedlings, they found a slack-necked bird lying dead on the dew—each brown feather perfection, sharp beak echoing the hole in the plastic above.
Female blackbirds (Turdus Merula) are brown.
Had she been surprised by the obstruction to her usual flight path on her way to feed her chicks? Whispering of bad omens, the couple buried the bird where the rough edge met the smooth—under a layer of bulbs, overlaid by turf, encircled by stones.
The female blackbird builds the nest, lays 3-5, rust speckled, blue-green eggs.
Their tomatoes thrived, but the couple didn’t dare stop making offerings to the dead bird, lest the balance be tipped—daffodils, narcissi, bluebells, wild garlic, crocuses.
Both the male and female blackbird feed their young.
With each passing year the flowers spread further and further, until they could fill a whole tennis court, an entire football stadium—white, yellow, blue, magenta, engulfed everything that grew there. Some say it’s now so big that aeroplanes navigate by it, that in certain weathers, the glow can be seen from the International Space Station when it passes above.
Blackbirds are omnivorous.
Seekers came from near and far to see the phenomenon. Some say, the ocean of flowers that drowned the village was brought by the spirit of the broken bird, desolate her chicks had been left motherless, she spun like a spirit dervish, feathers askew, and the flowers circled out to the span of two snow angels, and their spread continued to accelerate, faster and faster. Visitors became intoxicated, dizzied by the brightness, had to rest catch to their breath—said birds sang songs of such sorrow in their heads, while the world spun round about them faster and faster. Soon the visitors stopped coming. The village was left to look after itself.
Blackbird chicks are highly susceptible to predation.
The village elders felt the flowers lapping at their doors, and they knew their shears wouldn’t stay the tide forever. They remembered the time before the ocean, when there was a ruin at the far side of town, and they remembered when the ruin was a house, and a couple lived there.
The life expectancy of a blackbird is under 3 years; the oldest recorded blackbird lived for just over 21 years.
It’s said, one year the white froth of hemlock flowers joined the cow parsley, yarrow and speedwell flowering in late spring. It’s unclear how the couple came to consume the poison hemlock, and it’s unclear how long it took for them to perish, or exactly where they’re buried. But, it’s said that they lie together where the blackbirds sing. That somewhere in the ocean of flowers that drowned the village there’s a fresher layer of daffodil bulbs, and a ring of stones encircling their grave.
In Celtic mythology, it is said that blackbirds may hold the souls of those awaiting judgement.
Published in Issue 6