bioStories Blog is an extension of the online magazine bioStories: Essays from the magazine, news, updates on contributors, and other features appear here.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Shop

by Robert Maynor

The Shop sits on a road called Farm. It’s a cinderblock building on a concrete slab that is divided in half by a thin wall. One half is offices, the other is a warehouse full of tools and steel pipe, an old Murray lawnmower without a hood, a white 1994 Ford F-250, tubs of Gojo, motor-oil, two tall wooden shelves full of pipe fittings, an ice-machine, a STIHL calendar with bikini models on it, five-gallon buckets, a cardboard cutout of Bill Elliot, a big monkey stuffed with beans, ladders, one hundred empty cans of Kodiak, a scissor lift. Across the street is a transmission shop. To the left is an empty lot where a VW bus is parked with sweet-gums growing out of the windows.
My grandfather bought the Shop sometime in the early eighties after telling the bigwigs at Grinnell to suck his ass and after working for a little while from my grandmother’s kitchen table.
My grandfather will be turning seventy soon. He likes to talk about retiring. I think if he really does retire, he’ll die, despite his health. Good health can only take a man so far. 
        His secretary, Nance, is at least as old as he is. She still uses a typewriter and a rolodex and sticks post-it notes all over the Shop like they’re wallpaper. She was always kind of fat, but these days it’s gotten to where it’s almost fascinating. Normally my grandfather hates fat people, even though he’s growing a little liquor gut himself. He yells at Nance like he’s married to her.
        My dad started working for my grandfather when he was seventeen, as a helper. After he graduated, he went to school in Sumter for two years and got an Associate’s degree in Forest Management, then went to work full-time fitting pipe. He is forty-seven now. He hates his job. I think he hates his life. He haunts the Shop like a ghost.
        When my dad goes to the gas station for a drink or a can of chew, he brings Nance back a snack-cake or a pack of Jolly Ranchers. He always picks on her about Jesus. She thinks he’s the funniest man in the world. She probably loves him more than she loves Jesus.
        When I was sixteen, I started cleaning the Shop. They paid me fifty dollars a week to scrub the commodes and vacuum the floors inside. My grandfather gave me a key. It was the first key I ever had to anything. My dad gave me an apron.
        “Don’t pay no attention to that dickhead,” my grandfather said, grinning beneath his thin little mustache.
        “I don’t,” I said.
        My grandfather keeps a lot of pictures in his office of me and my cousins; my dad and my aunt and uncle; my grandmother. There’s a stuffed pheasant on the wall and a piece of paper with a cartoon buzzard that says: “Patience, my ass. I’m going out and kill something.” I’ve never known what that means. There’s also about fifty copies of handprints tacked over the window from biggest to smallest, with the owner’s name written on the bottom of each one.
        When I was seventeen, I had sex with a girl named July in that office, on a drafting table, at a kind of weird angle. Afterwards, cleaning the toilets, my back was sore as hell. Driving her home, the whole car stunk like bleach.

        At the Shop, trucks cling to the parking lot like the shed skins of men. My dad drives a tan colored Chevrolet with a broken tailgate. My grandfather drives a Ford Sport-Trac: it’s green. It used to have two gold racing stripes down the middle, but it doesn’t anymore. My uncle drives a two-wheel drive F-150; clean and well-oiled, like him. The workers drive dirty, faceless trucks that cough when you crank them.
        In the mornings they gather, these working men, in the lot like dogs. They are every color. They stand in a broken circle, wearing short-sleeves, even in winter—thankful for the cold. One of them has a mustache and one of them has an eyelid that sags half-way over his eyeball. They don’t drink coffee. My father stands before them like a priest. He lays blueprints out on the hood of some truck and draws on them with a square pencil sharpened with a knife. He brings home a little over eight-hundred dollars a week.
        My uncle moved to the Shop from Texas. He is my dad’s younger brother. He lived in Texas for my entire life with his wife and two poodles, one black and one white. They knew how to do tricks, like play dead. When he moved here, my grandmother said he was coming home. The floor of his office is covered in the shells of sunflower seeds. Sometimes he leaves his radio on over the weekend. He tries to teach Nance how to email.
        My own brother loves to go to the Shop. He’s eleven now. He climbs up in the lift and grabs the joystick like it’s his own dick and drives the thing around like a madman. He hooks the safety chain onto one of his belt loops, but he never goes up. He says he’s never going to college. He says he’s going to own a Shop that sells and works on lifts.
        “There’s only one problem,” my dad says. “You’re scared to go up without me.”
        My dad’s office is outside, in the warehouse. It has a cracked tile floor and a desk and a metal folding chair that I’ve never seen him sit in. He wears boots every day until the leather begins to peel off of the steel toes and then he throws them away and buys another pair.
        I quit cleaning the shop when I went to college and they hired a woman to do it. I took up working odd hours for a plumber.
        “School comes first,” my grandfather said.
        “I should’ve know you’d turn full queer,” my dad said. He calls plumbers hockey jockeys. “There’s only three things you need to know to be a plumber,” he says. “Shit flows downhill, payday is on Friday, and knockoff time is at 3:30.”
        I quit that job too.

        There’s a squirrel that lives in a pine tree that rises up over the Shop like a steeple. It jumps from its tree onto a power-line and then from there onto the roof. My grandfather wants it to be killed because he says it’s getting into the Shop through the roof vents and eating the insulation. My uncle bought a pellet gun and spends at least two hours every day trying to shoot the squirrel. If he ever kills it, I think he’ll cut the tail off and zip it up in his fly and walk around with it hanging out like that until it rots.
        “You know,” my dad says, eating a gas station hotdog off the hood of his truck, his shirt soaked through with sweat, his knuckles black and scabbed; he is smiling with the thought in the corner of his head that in a few hours he will drive home and have the opportunity to run his truck headfirst into an oak tree, but won’t; will go home instead to my mother and that crumbling yellow shack and count the hours until he can go back to the Shop; leave his family behind for a little while; further break his gnarled back. “That ain’t the only squirrel that can climb.”

        Someone painted the front door of the Shop red. It looks like lipstick on an old woman. It shows her age: her tits are sagging, there’s cobwebs in her eyes, her carpet has grown moldy and is starting to stink. She could use a new set of shingles.

        My grandfather will be turning seventy soon. My dad will be fifty, half dead. Nance goes home at 4:30, and my uncle knocks off at five. When the men come back from their jobs, they get in their emphysematous vehicles and leave. My grandfather goes out into the warehouse and runs a push-broom over every inch of the cement floor. My father sits on an upturned bucket, reading the paper and spitting into a bottle of motor oil.
        “Go home, boy,” my grandfather says. “Go home.”
        “I will.”
        “There’s nothing left to do here.” He leans his broom against the wall and stands in an open bay-door and looks out. The sun is beginning to set over the top of the transmission shop. He is nothing but a shadow.
        He reaches up and grabs a string, pulls the door shut, and the whole warehouse is dark. My dad folds his paper and stands. “I’ll see you tomorrow then,” he says.
        “I’ll be right here.” They go inside to my grandfather’s office together. They look silently at the photographs strewn about the room like dust—vestiges of another life outside of the Shop. They turn off all of the lights, lock the doors, and go out to the parking lot. They nod their heads and get into their trucks and drive towards home.

Robert Maynor is from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. He has worked as a commercial plumber, dishwasher, cook, landscaper, and musician. His stories and essays have previously been published in Bartleby Snopes and Lander University’s New Voices. He is twenty-two years old.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Give Me a Sign

by Linda Tharp

There’s a lava rock wall in front of a Maui condo complex from which a nondescript sign announces the complex’s name, a series of leapfrogging n’s and o’s heralding vacation before you’ve even dragged your jet-lagged self out of the rental car. The wall’s rocks are rough and my daughters’ skin, still mainland pale, appeared delicate in comparison as they stood under the sign for the requisite photo in their matching sundresses and Salt Water sandals, their hair not yet chlorine-brassy and their noses not yet peeling.

Nine years later Mom and Dad invited me back to Maui; they returned every April or May and always stayed at the complex with that rock wall. My husband endorsed my joining them, probably hoping time away would have a mellowing effect on me, and assured me he could handle his job, the house, three kids, and our Dalmatian for a week. A week! It was too good to be true.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” I asked him. “Because you’ll have to get the girls back and forth to school.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Don’t worry—I mean, I can drive.

I shook my head. “It’s not just that. Things come up that you never have to deal with, things you don’t even know about: permission slips, missing library books... There’s more to it than just driving.” Then I said, so quietly he asked me to repeat myself, “Besides, what about Erin?”

“What about her? I told you, we’ll be fine. Just go have fun.”

I half-heartedly bought sunscreen and a paperback or two, and agreed—perhaps too enthusiastically—when others said, “That’s so exciting you get to go!” What they didn’t know was that a lethal cocktail of melancholy and guilt threatened to derail my trip before it even started. Worse, I feared my cocktail glass would be refilled every time I saw the sign hanging on that rock wall and remembered my girls standing under it. 

I’m not sure how old they were in that photo—probably five, six, and eight. It seemed as if time stood still then, like I’d be forever unsnarling tangles from tender scalps and refereeing turns in the front seat, and I remember feeling comfortably stuck, contentedly itchy with life’s predictability. Now, even though it had been six years since life morphed from comfortable and predictable to this, returning to a spot we’d all enjoyed seemed callous, like I was trying to forget—or ignore—what has happened. Because today, Erin, our oldest, is in a wheelchair, nonverbal, and permanently disabled. She will never stand or speak again.

Six years after that photo was taken—six years after she tied a plastic grass skirt around her waist and swayed her nonexistent hips, six years after buying her sisters puka shell necklaces with her allowance—Erin lay in a teaching hospital’s ICU in a medically-induced coma, her private room so crammed with monitors and IV pumps and nurses that she seemed inconsequential by comparison. She eventually survived the tenacious virus that breached the usually unbreachable blood-brain barrier. Or, that is to say, doctors called her existence survival.

I expected things to become more complicated as the girls got older, and when Sarah, our middle daughter, accidentally baked her pet rats Phoebe and Camille in a misguided attempt to give them a morning of fresh July air (which became intense heat sooner than Sarah anticipated), I felt a perverse sense of relief despite my rants about irresponsibility. The complications I anticipated were along the lines of nefarious boyfriends and speeding tickets; sun-dried rats, I decided, would provide exemption from future catastrophe.

Often I wondered if Erin’s doctors were misguided, if their achievements weren’t necessarily in Erin’s best interest; if her survival—by their fluid interpretation, anyway—would be enough. In the era of that photo, I believed Erin’s future held more than the comfortable predictability she was raised with. The particulars swirled in my imagination like glitter, bits of hope and promise catching the light but not settling into a discernable pattern. That pattern took shape in Erin’s early teens, her passion for space exploration blossoming into dreams of a NASA career, and while she lay fighting for her life in ICU, a dog-eared NASA application packet with the return address of “Astronaut Selection Office” lay at home on her bedroom desk—which illustrates the fluidity of the word “survival.”

We did our best to maintain an illusion of normalcy during Erin’s eleven-month hospitalization, but life felt like a series of wrong choices: spending time at Kelley’s science fair awards instead of at Erin’s bedside, or letting Sarah and Kelley go to Catalina Island with Mom and Dad for the day despite a nagging fear that the ferry would sink. I was governed by guilt and doubt, no longer trusting instinct or common sense. Part of that, I know now, is because life was upended for no reason other than a willful virus. Nothing seemed safe anymore, or sacred, or sure. In a matter of hours I had gone from weighing Erin’s desire for our attendance at her space launch, to listening as a neurosurgeon recommended sawing away part of Erin’s skull. Now I was afraid seeing that condo’s sign would unnerve me more than finding those two caged heatstroke victims in our backyard. 

I was in no hurry to leave our rental car’s backseat despite the five-hour flight spent seat-belted to a barely cushioned concrete slab, my reluctance having nothing to do with comfort and everything to do with avoiding that sign for as long as possible. But as fate would have it we neither hit traffic nor careened off a cliff so here we were, pulling into the condo’s parking lot, and there it was, not thirty feet in front of us. Empty, is what I thought—the wall looked empty without three little girls in front of it. I waited for the smack upside the head I’d expected, the harsh realization that all three girls would never stand here—or stand anywhere, for that matter—ever again. The smack never came.

I spent hours on the same chaise lounges the girls squirmed on as they waited to go swimming after lunch, Coppertone making them slick as eels, and on the same beach where they built castles that melted like sugar with the tide. The smack never came, but a revelation did: even if Erin hadn’t gotten sick, even if our whole family was here right now, the girls wouldn’t be in matching sundresses, I wouldn’t pose them for another cheesy picture, and there’d be no more sand castles. It had nothing to do with Erin’s illness, and everything to do with the passage of time.

After Erin got sick I spent countless nights wondering if her survival would be enough, if blinking and breathing and swallowing would be enough for a girl with the former determination—and the former smarts—to join NASA. But in my either/or mind, I’d lumped “survival” and “NASA” together: Erin couldn’t have one without the other. When those sand castles were washed away, the girls built new ones, some more elaborate than the original, some less, but they didn’t stare at their now-vacant lot pining for what was.

The nonverbal, wheelchair-bound Erin will never join NASA. But the able-bodied Erin would not have received a standing ovation upon her high school graduation three years after she was almost declared brain dead, or be named Ambassador of the Year for her involvement with a nonprofit that provides wheelchairs to the disabled in Third World Countries ten years after that. The old Erin lived large, but so does the new Erin—without ever uttering a word.

I’ve returned to Maui every year since then with Mom and Dad. That rock wall is still there, but it no longer symbolizes evaporated plans—now it’s simply jagged stones, possibly thousands of years old, possibly manmade and bought at Home Depot, stacked like a jigsaw puzzle. And if I look closely, I see tongues orange from POG juice, fingers sticky with Roselani ice cream, and am reminded of what’s waiting at home.

Linda Tharp loved language from an early age when she first realized words can hurt you, a tactic she employed against neighborhood bullies due to her inability to throw either sticks or stones very far. She lives in Southern California with Gary, Erin, and grand-dog Maggie, and is currently writing a memoir based on the impact of Erin’s illness.

Monday, August 3, 2015

On Raising Snakes

by Ed McCourt

Corn Snake Mike is pointing out a wooden bird house on the edge of his property and is beginning to tell the story of how he came to build it when a broad-chested blue jay darts down to rest on its roof.
“Almost as big as a kingfisher,” I say.
Instead, Mike tells the story of an abandoned hatchling blue jay a neighbor found squeaking on his porch. That neighbor knew to bring it to Mike. He took it in, hand fed it, raised it up indoors: “It learned to imitate the sounds of the house.” He tells me about the first time the blue jay barked like a dog, then when it learned to whistle, and finally when it started imitating the ringing of his kitchen phone.
“My father would come in and answer the phone and yell about pranksters because no one would be on the line!” He follows this punchline with his habitual, guttural laugh and a push of his glasses. He is wearing a black T-shirt and on it is an eagle carrying a banner that reads “100% American” and practical sneakers. I know that, before becoming a Corn Snake guy, Mike was raised here in the south and retired from the automobile manufacturing industry. He tells me more about blue jays, how they love anything shiny, how he trained his to take pennies from his hand and drop them into his shirt pocket only to land on him later to ensure the coin was safe.
I’m not sure how I first found Mike, but I do remember that at the time an internet search of “Corn Snakes” and “Florida” turned up his home-made website as a top result. I asked him once how his website got so much traffic; it turns out he had taken a continuing education course search engine optimization, and the next month, he was in the top ten results in Google for “Corn Snakes.” We are friends now, but at first, I was just a guy curious about snakes and he was a popular google search.
Why snakes? Slithering, yes.  But isn’t there something elegant about it? And their skin! Cooler, smoother, and much softer than anyone who has not held one might imagine. That curious flicker of tongue, those severe (concerned?) eyes. For such a simple animal, it can be polarizing; as an order the serpent elicits a response matched by few, save the arachnid. My curiosity includes serpents, but also extends to other reptiles, or more accurately ‘herps,’—a commonly truncated nominalization of the word ‘herpetology,’ the scientific study of reptiles and amphibians.
When I talk with Corn Snake Mike, we stand between the side by side sheds: the snake house on the right, fully insulated and temperature controlled, and the smaller, less sophisticated hut on the left that he calls the “Mouse Farm.” It houses hundreds of adult mice alongside their thousands of offspring, many of the females puffed out awkwardly at both sides like those pickup trucks with obtrusive double wheels on the back axle. All generations live together in plastic tubs: pinkies (the babies, named because they are furless), fuzzies (for their short fur), hoppers (they are jumpy), and other adults. Screens top each tub, pinned down by old peanut butter jars filled with water, a small hole drilled in the bottom so the mice can lean up and suck a droplet through the mesh.  
There is also the side of the ‘farm’ I choose not to see—the table where Mike does the killing. “I just grab them by their tails and wham!” He gesticulates a fast turn of his wrist, a quick, mechanical snap—a motion he repeats hundreds of times each week. “They never feel a thing ... it is like falling off a twenty story building for them.” The silent victims of the pet trade, millions raised like miniature cattle, slaughtered to sustain pets, mice and rats are used in lab experiments because they share DNA strains with humans. Ultimately, we sacrifice these millions of mammals, our close genetic kin, to facilitate the hobby of keeping cold blooded species.
This is a world I have found myself in, but not without reservations. Animal husbandry has always operated on a basic tenet of symbiosis: grain for eggs, pasture for milk. The arrangement with traditional pets is a bit less concrete, but clear; well-timed treats for loyalty, affection, or a coy purr.
This is more difficult to explain in terms of herps.
Yet they are bred nonetheless, in impressive numbers. According to a study presented to the 112th Congress, some five million homes in this country house nearly fifteen million reptiles, and as a nation we exported an additional eleven million. Most of these are produced by hobbyist breeders in small spaces like Mike’s, and a huge cottage industry has risen alongside it.
Mike has huge varieties of corn snakes in his collection. I would drive up his long dirt driveway and park along the chicken wire he uses to coral his hens and tortoises, and he would appreciate my interest and explain to me the tenets of good snake husbandry. But there was one piece of the corn snake puzzle Mike never really addressed: the science.
So I read. I found online forums and bought corn snake books written by the respected breeders in the field. I got a juvenile ‘normal’ (the ‘wild’ coloration and pattern) from Mike and kept him as a pet, mostly because I wanted one, but partially for the purpose of familiarizing my wife with the notion of having a reptile in the house. This wasn’t an easy sell at first. “I don’t think we are snake people,” she would say, invoking the stigma of the snake.
In my research I learned that, like the modern dog, reptile breeders work to isolate aberrant genetic traits. For corns, these genes have been mostly recessive, and include amelanistic genes, anerythristic, hypomelanistic, diffused, dilute, stripe, motley, lavender, sun-kissed, lava, charcoal, caramel, and cinder. What is further is that these genes are on separate alleles and hence can be combined to make literally millions of potential varieties, called ‘morphs.’ There are candy cane corn snakes and pewter ones, avalanche and coral, plasma, gold dust, and citrine. There is snow, opal, and both—snopal. And each year people are breeding to further diversify the offerings in what is the largest segment of the pet trade running, though being outpaced in terms of growth by more exotic snakes like pythons and boas (for the corn snake is a species of colubrid native to the US). Eventually, I found a pair for myself that were heterozygous for multiple traits and could hence produce variegated offspring.
And like that, I was a snake breeder. I have learned that it doesn’t matter how many pairs one has, even if it is a single pair of domestic and otherwise non ‘exotic’ colubrid, if they produce eggs, then one is irrevocably a snake breeder. My wife can say goodbye to her weekly book club if that gets out.
As a father of snakes, I have become much more attuned to the stigma surrounding them, particularly in a state like Florida where venomous species are indigenous. There is a kind of ubiquitous serpent mythology here; local newspapers document rattlesnakes simply for having the nerve to be seen in public. In my neighborhood, I have seen dozens of ‘rattlesnakes’ killed and laid out with the trash, only to identify them has harmless, overgrown Florida garters, racers, or banded water snakes. A friend of mine actually will not use the word ‘snake’, and instead calls them esses (for the letter S, and the sound they make), because in his experience, uttering the very word conjures them.
It would be misleading to say it is a local phenomenon. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first man and woman were duped by a devil in serpentine form. Similar mythology has sprung up around the Ebola virus. The story goes that the virus originated from a woman carrying a basket containing a snake. When opened, the snake gave Ebola to the first man it encountered. It is said that the serpent is still alive, roaming the country side, only now it can, like the equally terrifying snake-headed medusa, stricken a man with Ebola just by fixing its gaze on him.
The fear of snakes is logical as metaphor. The snake—as an extension of nature, of death, of disease—can live in plain sight undetected, and then when it is not at all expected, rise and strike with unmatched accuracy. For that reason, it is not quite the danger that scares us, but the quiet cunning of the thing.
Of course, this is not the experience with a clutch of eggs. Like an expectant mother, I fretted over the oblong eggs and watched them swell. I checked temperatures, humidity levels, and practically prayed over each nose ‘pipping’ out of its egg. I was, after all, growing living beings from a shoebox of peat and perlite in the stifling heat of my office closet. I did end up with some genetically unique animals, though when I compared them to the morphs Mike had in his collection, they weren’t really anything new, other than how vivid the ‘cube’ pattern was that graced the dorsal line of a handful.

Breeding aside, my favorite snakes of Mike’s aren’t the unique, strange, genetically aberrant in his collection. My favorites, by far, are a pair of ‘wild’ sub-adult yellow rat snakes that have found their way into the Mouse Farm and have taken up residence, pressed into the narrow slot between two tubs of mice.
In the shed, Mike opens a mouse rack: an offering. The rat snakes come over and peek in, look back at us for a moment, and snatch one of the scurrying bunch.
I love these yellow rat snakes, not because they are more beautiful than the selectively bred specimens next door, but because of their condition. Their presence, in as much as we can anthropomorphize the behavior of cold blooded reptiles, is an act of volition. They are free to leave, but because of Mike, because of his mice, they remain—without enclosures.
When I happen upon a wild snake, I try to give them that same choice. Choose not to bite me, and you might come to my home. Choose to eat my food, and you can stay. It is a simple system that creates some sense of contract between two living beings.
So why not stop there, with a wild snake that has ‘chosen’ to stay? If husbandry is ultimately a refined form of biological symbiosis, and we do not receive the obvious benefits from reptiles that we do from other animals, what is it that we gain from the keeping of herps? Perhaps I raised snakes for the same reason I write—to accomplish the most challenging thing in the world: creating something unique, beautiful, and complete.
Perhaps the entire “exotic” pet trade is, in some way, an effort to compartmentalize the wild element of nature into something manageable and urban. We restrict animals to square boxes the way the sun is contained behind the right angles of the neighbor’s house, the high-rised skyline. The mouse farm, the snake racks, our own homes and neighborhoods—all of us in boxes.
But there are other explanations that I worry about. Does this make the animal into spectacle? The same kind of misguided apotheosis as the circus elephant, crowned, bejeweled, glorified, but depressed and severely malnourished when back in its cage? Perhaps it is a symptom of the dissonance between man and nature: the best we can do is scrape together this facsimile of wildness, a tamed pseudo-beast that would rather allow itself to be manhandled than to strike out in its own defense, to provide ourselves a surrogate for nature. Does it in some way relieve the burden of our manufactured cartons, the various cloistered spaces of our lives? Perhaps we find it more tolerable knowing that something ‘wild’ is similarly confined and still surviving. Or worse, is it vindictive: I am in a box, and so it will be for you. Misery loves company, scales and all.

It wasn’t long after writing on this subject that I went back to see Mike, and of course, to pick up an order of mice. It was spring and as we spoke I noticed the boughs of his white grapefruit trees were full and bent to the point of breaking. He offered me whatever I could reach, and told me about his two varieties of fig trees. Through the branches, I noticed one of his bird houses that line the southern corner of his property. It is always difficult, I thought, to imagine the bird—with all its darting and soaring—contained in a wooden box.
“There are actually two nests in that—one in the house, and another below it in the top of the log where something bored out an opening. You can lift up the house and see a second nest beneath.”
We walked over. Mike told me he had seen a tufted titmouse going in and out, and hoped that the nests would be full of eggs, or better, hatchlings. “Unless a rat snake has made a meal of them,” I joked. Macabre, but this was the same place where we let patient rat snakes feed on live mice practically from our hands.
His face was solemn, “I sure hope not.”
We didn’t see anything at first, but I whistled a bird call, and by the end, we counted five down coated heads, popping up, mouths agape, waiting to be fed.
It was these hatchlings that reminded me why we kept these corns snakes: the natural world is magnificent but ever fleeting. The whole industry is but an attempt to keep in boxes some connection to nature that is otherwise uncontrollable and transient. We whistle and call it up to us, and after a glimpse, its downy head is back, low and hidden in some thicket. This practice is a meager attempt to sustain that singular instance in which nature is summoned to us, all beaks and scales, down and fur, and graces us with a moment of mutual recognition.

Ed McCourt is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Jacksonville University. His essays and poetry have appeared in the Little Patuxent Review, the Portland Review, Gravel Magazine, the Bacopa Literary Review, and elsewhere.