Grace Notes
A hopeful newspaper column ~ by Natalie Costanza-Chavez
Columns About Hope in Tragedy > Waxed paper, Thread, and the Hard Job of Salvage
Waxed paper, Thread, and the Hard Job of Salvage

Grace-Note #23 – ran on 5/22/05

Waxed paper, Thread, and the Hard Job of Salvage

She had just lost a baby, but she lived still. Her house in a field of grass surrounded by the #### of split rail horse fence still stood. On the porch sat the front seat of a Dodge Dart: her bench. Each morning after, the swallows brought prairie grass and bits of fur to the eaves of her house. Building and flying, they’d tuck in close, add to their structure, then head out again. Over and over, tireless and with precision they zigzagged and constructed and wove and patched.

And when the eggs split open, she watched the head of the mother peer and swivel toward her as she neared to listen to the nestled “queek” “queek” “queek’s” breaking the still air. They were at home there as she stepped under them, crossed the porch to the door, went in each evening.

One night the clouds moved in low and thick over the foothills. A mist settled on her windows and dampness cut through the air like a scent. In the morning, she opened her door to a fallen nest. It was swollen and wet from holding the cloud-white fog until the weight of it grew too heavy and it dropped. She was not calm. Suddenly, it seemed, her losses were all at her feet. She was furious as she felt the four dead bodies for movement. She was panicky and crying as the fifth one, ice-cold and flat against the cement, flinched. It moved.

She carried it inside and walked circles around and around the tiny house, the small bird cupped in her hands, her mouth inches away breathing on it over and over. She held it so gently that only its feet touched her palm, the edge of it’s beak against the side of her finger. She braced her arms so as not to jar it – each muscle in her body poised against what could happen, how she could trip or fall, how she could ruin it. She set her fingers to let in light and though it was barely touching her, she felt its heart beat, small, shaking, pumping. Alive.

She took the shade off a lamp, set it sideways on the counter, made a nest of dishtowels, and placed the bird inside. He peeped and called. And all she could think of was the ones that had died. She cried and tried to breathe. He peeped and called. He peeped and called. He called and called and when she could stand his separation no longer she ignored every thing she had ever heard about touching a nest, the smell of humans, mothers that won’t come back and she got a ladder. She climbed it and put him in a different nest. She knew in her gut the mother had already lost everything for now and would not find her way back to the pile of sticks and feathers at her feet.

The next year when the swallows returned, swooping under the porch with their pieces of sweaters unraveled, foil and fishing line, when they returned with their bits of waxed paper and thin-long sticks, she held her fingers to her lips in awe; she tried to imagine that any bird could fly into those eaves again, that they could build again, unafraid of what may die, unafraid of falling or of loss.

When we are wounded we carry it until it grounds us. We writhe and call and fight the wind - until we move with it.

That second summer the blackberries filled with juice and turned toward the moon’s rise. And, at times – not often – the mountain fog closed over the foothills. Once, it surrounded her so deeply asleep that she heard far into her night dreams, into the color of sounds and words that don’t speak. What she needed to rebuild waited there among the pieces of things broken and lost.

Birds trail bits of tinsel and thread against the sky and salvage what they can. What of your rebuilding? What might you find? Poised on the quick of a branch, it’s time to gather yourself, breathe in, fly for the string in the wind. Catch it – quick – and build.