Lightning, by Ryan O’Connell
My museum bird pauses in the wise hypervigilance of birds, on the sculpt of a flayed arm. The arm poses, hyperrealistic, in Second Position, stretched horizontal from the missing body, hand curving down from the wrist, à la Michelangelo’s Adam, the thumbnail a postmortem lilac. Bright muscle strands shade from brick red to terra cotta to clean egg-shell tendon. Oil paint on clay, the placard says. The arm’s slick shine is that of a rubber anatomical model on a stainless steel countertop in a windowless examination room.
He builds an impossible scaffolding of reasons to forgive her. He was always feeble in self-defense. Her knives were painted with butterflies. Now the world is a wall of thorns.
The bird’s feet: anisodactylie—3 toes fore, 1 aft—lizard feet evolved into dainty twigs. Note: a bird is incapable of sin. No hands, no sin.
He talks to birds, sucks cherry cough drops by the bag. He retreats into the softness of animals, nestles into the fur of their bellies.
The arm and its bird make three shadows on the blank museum wall. The smooth-feathered flank almost breathes, the neck nearly twitches and turns, the eyes of oily black glass glisten with benevolence.
He watches lightning from the rooftops, and has taken to eating sawdust in the evenings. He is the town snake-cuddler.
In the long emptiness of the day he dreams he will be carried away, over fallen-down neighbourhoods, into far green fields strewn with skeletons.
Ryan O’Connell is a retired U.S. Army warrant officer, undergraduate student and apprentice writer at Portland State University. He is writing a nonfiction account of his experiences as a medevac helicopter pilot in Afghanistan.
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