“He trampled up to his room, wiping boots on the mat. He left the door ajar and spread the curtains across his windows. Light flooded in over the dusty and paper-strewn room as if for the first time in months. At his computer desk, he opened a file.
The experiment is proceeding. I can deal with the rejection. Subject is intriguing (if bubble-headed) and willing to be friends. Must remember not to call too soon and seem pushy.
Merging field notes with life had improved his anxiety; the slow, analytical assessment helped wrap his thoughts around the incomprehensible minds of others.
He cracked the window and watched snow melt on the radiator between window and desk. It was always too hot in the room. He checked his mail. There was a rejection slip. He had grown fond of these. He read the slip, its well-mannered, trite way.
He considered himself successful for 34. Three publications. Already, ready for long-term work. Out of grad school, he’d landed a job with a nonprofit that studied captive birds, birds used as pets, released in the wild. The study concluded that populations of captive birds released in the 21st century wound up stagnant. Dead as goldfish flushed from a toilet bowl. A much different story from the house sparrow and starling explosions of the 1800s.
The NGO was impressed with his work, and that his findings that only took him $4,000 in expenses. The only way to keep track of a bird in the wild had been to tag it and monitor with the owner’s permission. If the blip on radar stopped flashing that signaled a life squeezed out.
For him, nothing unrevealed was glimpsed by the study following blinks on screen. But there was a quality to birds he loved. Something about their ornate delicacy and yet wildness. Their precision for what they did. The artistry of evolution visible in the folds of their kaleidoscopic wings…”
Ecotones, Cold Mountain Review, Special Issue on Extinction, Fall 2017
“The Florida panther folded into the jungle. She planted her bullfrog-sized back paws into the spaces her front feet had marked. Lately, there’d been biologists, sometimes riding their mechanical beasts, sometimes afoot, tracking with guns, chasing her even when she lunged tree-to-tree. Her paws became like leaves overlapping on the forest floor.
Sometimes after they’d left, she’d sniff deer carcasses, tempting but reeking in an alarming way. She managed to take one doe and drag it through nightfall to her den and let her four cubs feed. All but one awoke from their groggy, near-lethal sleep the next morning.
The panther’s three younglings, one male, two female, were beginning to taste the burnt sweetness of adulthood. Their wrestling had taken on violence, usually sheathed claws drawn. Blood rain-dropping on skin. One more would die before adulthood, and if it wasn’t the male, he would need to travel out of state to find his own turf.
The children’s father was only six years old himself, in competitive prime, the killer of another panther who wandered up from the Everglades, young, lusting, unknowing. The mother had found the intruder male’s body, yellow eyes gazing at the dampness of the world, neck tendons exposed, haloed by flies.
The female panther was ravenous, but when wasn’t this true? Even engorged on adult boar, she still felt the pangs in her loins that whispered to her she’d need to be on the hunt tomorrow, for four times the feed that she needed herself, meat to supply her insatiable kin.
She angled in from the forest towards the well-used game trail. The cracks in the fallen bark, as well as the shape of the matted floor tunneling in the reeds, revealed it had recently been crossed. A signal crossed her brain like a bright light that animates a room.
There were strings, like charcoal pearls, of fresh scat leading to a water confluence. She leapt from the ground and hooked around a cedar trunk, squirreling her way up to a branch, aloft but to the side of the tracks. She’d hunted this trail unnumbered times, rotating between the fauna highway and a fresh, cool spring that broke through the Earth’s skin, where fawns drank.
She sniffed the air over the amphibious trail. Over a few hundred yards, a river otter urinated, and a python devoured alligator eggs. Only occasionally did she find anything besides deer and boar to eat. But the life waited there, and her nostrils printed the bulletin in her mind. There were new feces, up trail. Perhaps two hours old. Time as sparks attached to the calls of her stomach, the radar of her nostrils, the penetrating urge to drag kills for several hours over the wooded swamps to her home and dine after her children.
A smell penetrated the air: the alluring and milky scent of ripped deer buttocks. Another animal’s kill. There was a weaker female in an adjacent territory. The panther leapt off her perch and chased the odor…”
Lifeguard, The MacGuffin 32.3. Spring/Summer 2016
“A musty, rodent smell filled James’s second-floor abode. From outside, the man—bulky, chiseled necked, with excellently curled blonde-with-white locks—held a steaming Gremlin-green sack. The chill of Nebraska flooded the odor inside the door. “I believe this is yours?” the man said.
It was unfortunate James had walked his dog minutes before and couldn’t deny ownership of the sack’s contents. Unfortunate this man was not seemingly intimidated by James’s tattoo sleeves, nine face piercings, and gaunt mantis frame. Nor his elbow crooks displaying a dozen, quotation mark pink scars.
James’s Beretta would send this message, but it lay like a sleeping viper in the dresser near the door.
“Is it yours?” The middle-aged man asked again.
“Man, don’t bring that shit in here.” James deployed his flexing, glaring, poor, white boy thug gaze he’d come near to perfecting. “Are you kidding me?”
Never own up to anything, was what his dad had said. Right before he split—like the torn half of a photograph—for the Marines.
“Well, you left it out here; I thought you might want it back.” The man was smiling, pearly teeth in an oval of coffee-brown, Anglo skin with bleached goatee.
James was tired. Like bottom of the charcoaled spoon tired. The beans left to cook on the pan for twelve hours while you lay wasted beneath the table tired. “Man, don’t fuck with me.” James leveled his best jail cell stare. “It’s a free country.” It was something his dad had always said…”
“When it came time for the aging prostitute to raise the Amsterdam statues to life, her thoughts rewound to her witness of their stationary careers during her afternoons off. While she rested atop a museum bench after the long city walks, she had eyed the scads of tourists who objectified the stones, no idea of the forms’ past, nor the life they would have again.”