The sky is rent. The sun comes through it, seething. Dry wind scours me from the insides out. A tempest, a dust-devil of a life, and my eyes are closed against the stinging of it. I raise my hand partway without intending to. I raise my hand partway against the wind.
It takes my clothes, my hair, my skin. All these excrescenses I was, these trappings, a flexible and sensitive armor against a sullen world, now stripped away. Calcium is left behind, and potassium, and eyes still strangely and illogically moist.
Where cities suppurate across the Mojave desert ravens clump in massive and delinquent flocks, but away from our debris and waste they fly in pairs. Find one in flight, and wait: another will be close. Sometimes they are close enough to ride each other’s bow waves. Sometimes one is a minute behind, and calling to its mate: a raucous rasp.
Rarely a raven flies alone, and then always singing loneliness in its rock tumbler voice, a song to rend the skies, a call left generally unanswered. One came to me last night in sleep, massive and melancholy, and lit on a smooth and pocked Joshua branch.
Liveoak leaves under my bare feet today, humus so deep beneath them that I sank into the earth. Two ravens tumbled in flight above me and brought the dream full back. Raven lit alone on the Joshua tree and preened, I thought, grasped tailfeathers in talons, brought them to his beak. He wore an odd intensity, an odd intent, and pulled out the feather with a pained crow howl.
Raven feather floated prettily to the desert’s floor.
Another feather grasped, hand to mouth, and plucked. Another cry of pain; another blue-black blade made lazy downward arcs.
He stared holes in me, gauging my reaction.
The next one had blood on the quill. It dropped like a stone. He panted hard, eyes wide.
One could make light and pretty trivialities from feathers such as these, fake platitudes to hang on terra cotta walls. Another loss, another step toward flightlessness by hellish increment, and they shine such a stunning blue there on the bright hard soil next to the blackbrush. Black leathery crow’s feet and searing, iterative pain and loss, and I gasped remembering it, loud enough that birds took flight.