pages Exactly 499 Words About Warblers

by Malt Schlitzmann

Published in Issue No. 282 ~ November, 2020

A warbler is shaped like a photon, a round sort of softness with a straight bit at the end to indicate where motion was. Branch, sky, ground, branch. A warbler can sit still with a nervous energy that looks like flight, it hops without moving and the only indication that anything happened at all is a sudden puff of leaves and the sound of a footstep impossibly large for such an empty bird. Hollow bones and feathers merely a suggestion of substance through the air. If you’ve never held one, they are very, very small. It is a wonder how much of the bird isn’t there. They make such a noise against the windows.

The first warbler was a leaf that spun a feather’s worth of cloud around itself, before perching upon the top of everything. Now, this one holds a beakful of seed-fluff. This one kisses flowers, hunting for bugs and nectar. This one digs in the undergrowth, each leaf a page in the book of the forest, feathers full of ink.

Birds carry their meaning on their wings, a uniform of color and proud crests. It is sung but never spoken. A song is a language and music like how a photon is a wave and a particle. For birds, it is not enough to only speak, language is empty without a song, a wave without a medium. Words drag as heavy on meaning as a shining trout in an osprey’s talons. Do birds recognize the music of human laws? Would laws make any song at all?

Some birds bring the night with them, a shadow floating between branches, hooded in twilight. Shade not even noon can erase.

The warblers scatter. Shadows grow where photons cannot reach. The crows paw through the library, revealing what the earth kept wet. Tender sprouts and an army of beetles. Hawthorne sticks for a precarious nest.

Deadfall juts from a clearing by the lake, a pine crown snapped like a matchstick, left to nail the clay in place. A court for crows, each new regent finding feasts in the pages of forest history. Would a crow know a king by the taste of his eyes? To itinerant scavengers, are our dead a choice meal?

The warblers sit in a maple, whose seed pods droop with red tears. Their nests are woven with long grass, fallen boughs light enough to carry, collected from the edge of the clearing the crows have remade a kingdom of noise.

A trash can yields a tangle of fishing line. A cradle garlanded with razor wire, waiting to garrote a hatchling. Where grows now the long grasses, that the lands are sold? If the law cannot be sung, how real is it?

A bird passes through a real estate like a wave without a medium. It does not exist until it cracks a window, triggers an insurance claim. See it hang between earth and sky, cupped in the hands of a curious child, so beautiful, and so terribly, terribly still.

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