map The Dawn Chorus

by Christine Profaci

Published in Issue No. 285 ~ February, 2021

Young, rising sun. Here I forever stand and still, I cherish these first few swollen breaths of morning. The doves have paired. They wait. The first to arrive. On a branch above the holly bush today? An owl sounds the day’s first call. Retired from her crepuscular hunt, perhaps? What is it that you’ve got there, dangling from your beak? To pass onto your young? She moves in silence, into the tree’s nook. Into the belly of another. I spy through nature’s peephole. She reignites the thread of life stolen from a body, cold. The month is June. The dawn is hot. My body’s fixed in its position. I have as many eyes as walls. The gutters drip water like droplets of blood. The staircase, spinal. The day, inchoate. 

The birds tell me that I was born whole, before I was divided. I was built by the father and the son. The son who still lives within these walls. He, a boy then, handed his father a brick and watched him slather it with mortar. With love’s repetition, slowly my flesh began to form. The concrete was poured to secure my footing. My lungs were filled with ashy breath. I inhaled air into my hearth and pushed it through my flue. I coughed. At last, breath was mine to give or take. All bodies have blood, all living has life. Doorways tunneled out. Veins, passageways for this family to travel through. Windows! Eyes! I see out into the yard, beyond the clothesline. The orange, bobbing breasts of robins. Their movements show me exactly who they are. Glorious creatures! Loud, present and always.

Not long after I gained vision, did they wash and scrub and clothe me. Covered my floors in blankets. Pushed pins into my flesh. Dropped stones into my belly, painted my bones white. They shaded my eyes with long, willowing fabrics. Curtains moved across my face like the slap of winter wind. Not long after, I began to feel. The pot on the stove has reached its boil! The bathwater drawn in the tub has overflowed! The cigarette butts put out on my eyelids sting and prick my flesh with heat. I felt my innards buried in tile. I felt my shingles braided like hair. The ticking wall clock, my pulse. My insides are lived in. I am whole. I collect the whispers in my webs. The daughter has gone west? The son has met someone? The mother is now pacing. The father is now dead. 

Shortly after, I was divided into three. The sister’s basement sewing shop, the basement apartment and the top floor apartment. Cut and carved by the hands of the same men who helped give me breath. I swear, I heard them crying as they made final incisions and pulled out my inner organs. They swept up my immature bones like rusty nails and restacked my spine. I saw them rub their eyes with dusty fingers, shake their heads and tsk, tsk, tsk. He is gone. The boy was nowhere to be found. The mother felt the ticking pulse of my changing body daily, almost religiously. Her fingers traced along my insides. Her heels pierced like thorns into my vertebral discs as she climbed the stairs from the sister’s basement shop. 

The sewing shop on the basement floor is the gate hook you must unlatch before you enter. A right of passage into this broken, ailing body. Commerce impregnating my once lightly traveled, neighborhood street. Avenue women come and go in puffing cars that park outside the drive. Their cars are always waiting for their return. The sister’s sound is the sewing machine humming at all hours of the day. She begins in the morning, the sister who went west, but has since returned home. The basement shop is now the room where she lives inside of me. It is in this room where I have seen her exit with an entirely new face. Back from the west, she was upright like a tree. Her bags in hand, orchid skin, dripping in white. She had a walk like a blowing wisp of tall grass. Now, all I hear is her sound–humming, humming, humming.  Humming like wings flapping. Humming inside for years before I could get a good look at her.

When the sister emerged from her shop, an entirely different form was in front of me. Now, she curves like a willow tree. She is gray, sunken and bowed. The mounds of cheek and curve of hips moved, plucked and plowed. The waist belt tightened. A petal plucked too early. I see women from the avenue come and go. They hand her money. She sews them dresses, unrolls and cuts the fabric. I watch the exchange, it travels and flows. From the women to the sister, from the sister into the mother’s palm. From the west to the east. Soon, something else upon my body is hammered, stitched or repaired. Life goes on within this feeding chain. Into the belly of another. The machine’s humming, a backyard bird song of its own. My eyes will sometimes catch the sister from the window. She lifts her tired head from her sewing machine. She pushes her glasses on top of a handkerchief which covers her hair weathered like cedar. She stares, quite intently, at a small painting upon the wall. My wall. 

In the basement apartment, next to the sewing shop, lives the boy who built me with his wife and daughters. I watch him get into a blue truck early in the morning. He does not return until the shades are drawn. He does not talk much. He is always thinking, always busy. Always with his trowel in hand. Always knocking on the door of his mother who lives in the apartment above. If my counting is correct, I believe he fathers four young girls. I see them all outside. Two are running around in the grass. The grass looks like it tickles. The older daughter is holding a small book. She sits upon the wooden bench, elbows braced upon her knees, reading. Her chestnut hair is dangling past her chin. The second daughter is laying in the grass upon her belly. She is blowing into a handful of dandelions. I watch her fill her cheeks, hold them for a second and blow. The seeds disperse, taking her thoughts with them. The third child kicks her chubby legs from her carriage. I see the white frills from her socks bobbing like the robins. The youngest daughter is too small to walk and never leaves her mother’s arms.

I see the young wife of the basement apartment. The young girls follow her like ducklings. Her figure is lumped and misshapen, like mine. Never have I heard her assert her words the way I feel her assert her broom. Her sound is of vigorous, violent bristles sweeping against my floors. I take it that she was once whole too. Now, like me, she is divided. Sweeping, sweeping, sweeping. Sweeping like nails scratching. Sweeping like the sound of squirrel tails brushing against the garbage lids. She walks out to the clotheslines to flip the socks, to take down the sheets, to unclip the clothespins. She watches the robins as I do. She never leaves. Even with the girls, it is the mother from upstairs, the sister and the son who strap them in the carriage and take them from these grounds. During the night, I hear the wife sobbing. During the night, I hear her whispers. Her tears, always dripping into the dust piles that she’s swept and left in cobwebbed corners. She is not going to live like this anymore and soon, she will get out. She must. 

The wife and I, we watch the chimney swifts, the tenants of my throat. We have struck up quite a friendship. We watch the swifts as hours pass. They circle around the house and bring night with them. She drags a chair to face the window. Her day is retired at the crepuscular hour. I hear her question whether swifts are bats or birds. Her eldest daughter informs her as we all watch them disappear. It is then when the wife’s eyes lose the heavy liquid glaze there while the birds were moving. The son comes home, so tired. My sun, awake, still rising. I often see the wife swaddling her youngest and kissing her oldest upon the brow. One afternoon, I saw her run out into the yard all alone, her apron filthy, yelling, “Was that a seagull that just flew past?” 

To whom is she yelling? To the sky? I wonder. She shields her eyes, her hand against her brow. She stares in the direction of the passing gull.

I feel the mother in her treetop apartment. Her sound is of heels slapping up and down the stairs. Slapping, slapping, slapping. Down to the shop and back again. To the shop and back again. She’s always looking, always watching. Always down and up the stairs. What she does inside, I still haven’t a clue. Yet, her position is always felt beside my window. Always looking, always watching. The sound of the owl, she likes because I feel her near the window when it calls. The sound of her son’s truck igniting, she likes because I feel her near the window when he returns home. When the son’s wife is outside in the yard, I feel her near the window. The phone rings. She picks up the receiver and then drops it. Now, she has drawn a bath. Now, she is chewing garlic. Now she is chopping onions. I feel her warm breath upon my eyelids. In the yard, she tells the second daughter, 

“The babies never leave their parents, you know? They always come back to help raise the last season’s brood.”

I imagine that she is talking about the crows. 

The mother seems carved of marble. With a form like a crow herself. The most striking feature on her face cannot be called a nose, but a beak. Her eyes, big and yellow. Her hair cut short and layered, like the folds of midnight rose. Her heels, the piercing thorns. I never overlook the mother when she is outside. The children, the wife, the sister, the brother can all pass me in the night unnoticed. If the mother passed my yard in the blackest shade of night, she would rattle the seeds asleep in my deepest soil. She could prematurely remove seeds from their casings and push them to the surface for a good look. Her body emits heat. When she moves, it means something is flowing, something is moving, something is soon to change. Even when she passes in silence, she covers the ground like a dropped handful of marbles the daughters scatter across the yard.

The starting of the blue truck’s engine, the humming of the sewing machine, the bubbling of the coffee set to boil, the sweeping of the broom, the clanking of the heels up and down the stairs, the creaking of pipes as the bath water is drawn, the daughter’s yawns, the laughter, the exhaling push of dandelion breath. All of this contributes to the dawn chorus. The cooing of doves. The whistle of the cardinals. The hissing of the blue jays. All these birds join in, content in their monogamy. I watch them in this yard. All for the same reason, they delight in their perspectives. There once was love here, can you feel it? Upon this sacred ground? The doves together on the clothesline, the jays skimming the bird bath, the cardinals fill their bodies into the gaps within the chain-link fence. Welcome! Vibrant shades of mauve and red and blue. They show me how to fill such earthly spaces as we contribute to this same rising song. The day is now awake and far past its stretching and yawning. The dawn chorus has sounded. Again, the sun has risen.