for Travis Casey
You were the book I had opened. All the birds in the aviary died trying to escape, to soar back to you. I tied a message to a pigeon’s leg with orange ribbon. I hate that color, how it reminds me of sunsets, fruit and other things Mama insists I enjoy. It was your favorite. You spit on the other patients from my balcony, confident you would never hit the mark.
I tried to read but the words coalesced into black railroad spikes. I wanted to cut your throat and wear your bloody Superman shirt home to Mama and my sandbox friends as proof. I wanted to climb your great heights, savor air so thin you doubt the existence of oxygen, the existence of God.
After a long sleep in Cracktown, I remember nothing but a kiss on the stairwell and the hookers across the street, unshaven men making drug deals beside a Dumpster. The world is a bonfire encased in glass. Had I shown you the way out, perhaps your would have shown me the way in.
I collected the dead birds-the canaries, the storks, the hummingbirds-and stuffed them inside a garbage bag, then raced the streets like a deranged Santa, calling your name.
My bookmark fell apart in the rain, the ink smearing like blood. Jared, the man you chose after me, adored the rain. He let it pour over his curls and dimpled cheeks, arms outstretched like Christ. We had enough for a cross. We had enough for a cabin. You could pull the splinters from my thumb. You cannot love unless you’re willing to bleed.
Like an addict’s hope for salvation, my father dropped dead in a Wal-Mart parking lot. No one stole his food. Afterward, I devoured men bent on self-destruction, and I won’t stop until the dirt welcomes my bones.
I continued the book after deciphering the jumbled text. The novel was tragic; our three weeks together were an illusion. Pick a card, any card, and I will collapse in grief. It’s easy to mourn a man never yours. Ask Mama. The dead know more than the living, but they are bitter and stingy like Christian wives.
The birds began to rot. I carried the bag, still shouting your name, now a mantra. I imagined all the men moaning it, especially Jared in the rain. May the birds peck out his eyes.
When you charmed me into your bedroom, I said yes. You might never have asked again.
Another aviary resides in a strip mall across town. If I flew away, I could not return. I am homeless, I am therefore heartless.
You wanted to taste me, the first thing you said after our long, languorous kiss. But I am rancid like meat. I should join the birds. We could have made a home among the feathers, the blood, the glassy eyes. Bonds created inside this iron fence hum with intensity but never last. Fall in love anyway, Mama said.
I reached the final page. The heroine killed herself. So did the birds. You will not last-blind luck will carry you to the River Styx. There, you must cross or drown. Bribe the rower with cash or suck his cock.
I was seduced. I was willing. We sat on the balcony, smoked menthol cigarettes and ridiculed the poor bastards passing through the courtyard. I felt invincible and filthy like a cockroach.
Jared admired birds migrating over my room. Such perfect formation, he said. How can you not believe in God? You fucked him not long after I kissed his throat. Don’t pin your happiness on a dying man. You always lose. Ask Mama.
I sought revenge, righteous and naive. Enraged, your degrade me: meth whore, freak, psychotic. I thought of my parents. I don’t miss my father.
I went to Mama’s house. There were two photos of you on her computer, waiting for me. I deleted them at night while the birds slept in the second aviary. The dark hours were mine.
We never spent the night together. Now we do not speak. I slung the bag of dead birds into a Dumpster. A startled caw jolted me. Unexpected life. I walked away.
Soon, we will not know one another.
Some men carry erasers and some carry memories. It’s not his decision-it’s like height or eye color.
I chase men into the grave. Except for winter, birds sing their mocking melody. They have escaped. We will not.