A Bird In The Hand

This is a martinet, or a swift, depending on which language it’s speaking.  Its cry is shrill, and we hear a lot of daily commotion and conversation as a flock of them circles high above the swimming pool, doing their regular public service combatting the mosquito population.

But when I held this one in my hand he was quite silent, not trying to escape, even holding on tightly to my fingers.  I set him high in the cherry tree, and he’s there still, many hours later, clinging to the branch, and to life, for as long as possible, like the rest of us.

He’s been broken by Beppo in some way, as his wings still flutter and flap, but he doesn’t fly.  It’s the saddest thing, to see a bird so still.  I keep willing him to fly, but his eyes are dull and although he cocks his head a little toward my voice, I know he won’t obey.  In the morning I’ll find him lying at the base of the tree, and then what will I do?

It’s just one swift out of hundreds, but it’s the one I’ve held in my hand.  A soft swift, harmless and with good intentions.  It’s all in the natural order for a cat to hunt and a bird to fall, but still.  Beppo himself is very soft, never bites or scratches me intentionally, and if ever he hurts me accidentally no sooner do I make a little cry of distress than he sets to licking me, making it all better.  He likes to have his ears and face brushed with the softest bristles, and purrs contentedly all the while.  He also kills ruthlessly.

Lately, in addition to the snakes, mice, and rats, he brought in a bat.  We didn’t find it for several days, and if you’ve never smelled a days-dead bat, count yourself among the lucky.  None of them touched me like the swift, probably because I didn’t hold any of them, alive and hopeful, in my own hand.  I know that we say in English that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but I’d give a lot to see this one bird take wing.  I don’t want to hold him in my hand, not now or tomorrow, I want him to fly away home.

I don’t want it as much as I want peace on Earth, or an end to world hunger, or even, I’m sad to say, as much as I want my own personal happiness, but I want it a lot.  There are things I should be doing, my homework for tomorrow’s class, writing about the wonderful time we had with our friends yesterday, learning the subjunctive.  But instead I keep making the short journey to the cherry tree, to see if he’s still there.  It’s a very small life, but one that’s touched mine, and I don’t want to let it go.

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10 Comments on “A Bird In The Hand”

  1. Rebecca263 Says:

    We had a nest on our lintel for 2 years.
    Two springs ago, the week that I was diagnosed, a small dun colored bird appeared above our threshold, stretching her wings and cooing whenever I came to the front door. The dear bird built frantically one night a few weeks later, a small, round nest, woven with twigs and long bits of teenaged daughter’s hair, softly glinting copper and coffee, among the bits of wood, right on our lintel. Mama bird raised chick after chick in safety, above the door. She would warble and coo every time we opened the door, and squawk shrilly and flutter at anyone else who would happen upon our threshold. She was our dear mama bird- her chicks, and their blue eggs, were our chicks and pretty eggs, and we adored sharing the warm seasons with them all. This year, our new neighbors brushed off the nest, and the mama bird is gone. It’s a heartache, perhaps because the birds we’ve encountered are such soft souls.

  2. Lucy V Says:

    These birds swarm in clouds around the city scape and hunt the insects from the bogs wet areas near the rivers. I heard on a radio show that they are distant cousins to the hawk and falcon, and that their screech is for navigation. Sissy loves to watch them. I remember while out walking I heard first, then saw a nest full of little blind babies with open mouths all leaning towards my shadow when I went to get a closer look. I thought it was a sign of something good. Last weekend while at the Jazz festival in Vienne, we watched the sunset from the amphitheater, where a swirling formation of these beautiful birds crossed the silhouette of the horizon as if on cue.

  3. Margo Says:

    Abra, the tenderness of this touched my heart. Is there the equivalent of the Audubon society you could call, to find someone to mend the poor thing?
    Rebecca, I bet your friend was a phoebe–they build their nests with mouthsful of mud, a lot of work! So you bet they come back year after year, until some jerk destroys the nest.

  4. Abra Says:

    I sat near the swift last night, guarding him from Beppo, when I realized that two magpies had installed themselves in the tree, guarding him too, screeching anti-cat warnings. Later, when the swift flock circled overhead, calling, calling, the little one flapped and fluttered, yearning upwards. It was heartbreaking.

    And then I didn’t find him this morning, and assumed that Beppo had finally dispatched him in the night. But this afternoon, there he was, flapping frantically on the terrace. I managed to sit him in a puddle, where he drank voraciously. He’d been almost 48 hours without food or water. I went to the vet next door to ask for help – they told me to feed him soft cat food. I can now report that swifts don’t eat lamb. Finally we put him in a cat carrier and took him to the good vet on the other side of town, who agreed to keep him and try to heal him.

    I’ll never see him again, but I see him still, looking skyward, wishing for home.


  5. Dear Abra – I finally went to this website after being encouraged by margaret more than once…and it’s much more spectaculat than I’d expected. If is were a book I’m sure I’d purchase it! Keep it coming. xxoo, elaine

  6. Eden Says:

    I hope the universe sends you something extra good for that act of kindness Abra. (ditto the vet!) I was almost afraid to check back on this thread for fear of what I might read, It’s a hard world in which to be tenderhearted about our feathered & furry friends…

  7. Pat Says:

    Abra we all wrote this week at our rose covered cottage sans Abra! Reading your story of the little bird life in your hand reminded me so much of your writing with us and I miss your quite distinctive “voice” which sounded like a bell throughout this piece. Love to you!


  8. I don’t have near anything as profound and beautiful to say about this installment. All I can say is that as the owner of four cats, if I took every bird they crippled to the vet, I’d be so broke, I’d be living in a box under the freeway.


  9. Ciao Abra! We are also receive cat presents, but Bella rarely harms them, she just brings them to us to see her trophy. Last week she brought us a very, very young swift baby, it’s eyes weren’t even open. Jeff put it in a bowl and carried it around with him. It ate and drank for a few days and then passed on to swift heaven. Seems it may have been a bit too young for cat food but Jeff refused to eat bugs and regurgitate them. We were so sad when he went. C’est la vie.
    Judith


  10. […] your blog faithfully. I’m still trying to work out what to say, if anything, to your “bird in the hand” entry; it strikes so close to my heart that I fear writing the wrong […]


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