07 August 2009

black bird (reprint)

Black Bird
by Sherri H. Hoffman

Those Mackey boys from up the road always teased Howdy. Called him Retard.

Sandra stepped down off the school bus, and before it had even pulled away with a puff of dust, the boys started throwing horse apples at the back of Howdy’s head. Howdy walked alone toward the wooded lane where Sandra knew he lived with his mother, although no one had seen her much since the flu outbreak back before Christmas. Howdy did all the shopping now, brought the brown chicken eggs to the grocery in his mother’s old wicker baskets. Ailing, he said when inquired after her health. His jeans hung low across his narrow hips, and his clean white t-shirt stretched across his broad, straight back, unflinching, even when the Mackey boys switched to small stones.

Stop it, you animals.

Sandra loves the Retard. Sandra loves the Retard.

Sandra called Howdy’s name, but he didn’t turn around. She had to run to catch up.

Howdy! What ya’ doing, Howdy? Can I walk with you?

Howdy slowed, bent forward, held a single finger up to his lips, then spread his hands low and wide. Sandra followed his crouch, holding her skirt down against her bare legs. Sunlight glinted off a filament of fishline stretching into the underbrush.

What is it? Who put this here?

His long, fine fingers lifted the line, held the tension, walked forward as if climbing the invisible thread. A scrabbling in the leaves, thump-thumping in the brush startled Sandra back a step.

Oh! Something’s there. Some animal. Howdy! It’s something!

The fishline looped around the bird’s yellow-stick leg. Its black wings were half-shrugged, half open, its yellow beak open and panting. Howdy called to the bird, soft clicks with his tongue. Sandra crouched closer, close enough to smell the musk of him, his hair, his skin warmed with sun. She leaned in, almost brushing up against the curve of his arm.

It’s beautiful, Howdy. A beautiful bird.

He wound the line around his fingers, cooing soft now. The bird’s yellow eyes were wide and still, its wings drooping. It flapped weakly and hop-hopped one more time. Howdy’s fine, long fingers cradled the bird, folded in the curve of wings, stroked the iridescent black feathers that shimmered like oil.

Howdy turned. His cheekbones were sharp ridges over the equally sharp jaw line, his full, red lips parted just so.

Let me touch it, Howdy. Pet the bird.

Howdy’s eyes were flat, black pools like tar. His right eyelid slanted lower, twitched. His hands held the bird out to her.

Sandra touched the shiny black of the bird’s feathered head. It sagged forward, its neck limp as grass, snapped. She sucked in her breath.

Howdy’s eyes narrowed. He smiled. A casual flick cast the dead black bird away into the bushes.

Sandra backed fast. Howdy’s hand caught her wrist, long bony fingers closing in a vise.


His full lips rounded, clicking soft with his tongue, and his other hand clamped hard over her mouth.

### End

Winner October 2007 Student Choice Award: Whidbey Writers (10/07)

Winner Editor's Choice Award: 2007 VERY Short Story and Narrative Prose Poem Contest, Lunch Hour Stories Magazine (3/08)

23 July 2009

twitter poetry

Here are the Twitters that came out of a whole lot of hours driving in a car full of sleeping children. It might be a new genre of poem.

Road trip

The lake below Multnomah Falls is still. Deer at the edge stand in their reflections.

There's brown pelicans in the Columbia on a sandbar near Biggs.

Rock sheep on the cliffs near Philippi.

And windmill farms outside of Arlington.

Just past the Bradock Slough and there are fields of Black Angus and a row of white bee boxes.

Lake Bob.

Horses spook near Cement Plant Rd. A palamino bucks. The running herd turns in the field like birds.

I think it was a deer in the sagebrush with its elegant neck and ears like cupped palms.

The Ontario OreIda plant belches rings of white steam. Wonderland Caterpillar of Potato. I'm just a girl, I answer.

Corn. Corn. Wheat. Corn. Potatoes.

Boise. We wave our hands out the window to my friend Justin Larson. Of course he sees us.


Kristen says the sky is always the same dome but I think it reaches further down here. Down to the curve of the earth.

Four days later. The sun rises over Brigham City. Leaving Utah.

There's cows and sagebrush at Sweetzer Summit. And sun over the East hills.

Something you don't see at home: billboard of close-up dairy cow udders. Jerome, Idaho.

There are windmills at the 45th Parallel. Must be windy halfway between the North Pole and Equator.

The first time Becca saw the Columbia at Umatilla, she said, "That's not a river! It's a lake." Only the R's and L's were W's and she was 3.

Everything green.



12 July 2009

one bird at a time

A couple years ago, Joanna Rose and Stevan Allred reviewed some of my stories and offered practical direction and some needed encouragement. Given my own evaluation, I discourage myself to the extreme. I told them, "I quit every day."

Joanna gave me advice from Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird: write it "one bird at a time."

I am stuck in the third and final section of my novel, baffled by some plot movement and my inability to get what is in my head out on paper. This one has been going around and around for the past month. With my August deadline just ahead, frustration is my muse.

Outside the open window, three Mourning doves chase each other to and from the corners of the yard and up to the rooftop. A competitive threesome. For territory? Mating ritual? Play? The whirring mutter of their wings reminds me of old-school sci-fi alien spaceships. Earlier, a black-headed Junco fed seed from the patio to a peeping juvenile. And the brilliant yellow goldfinches have been all day on the thistle feeder, undisturbed even by the antics of the doves.

A light rain begins. Silver drops collect and hang from the branches of the rhododendron. I am content to make another loop through this chapter. One page. One raindrop. One bird at a time.