Somewhere in the dark space between my diaphragm and liver lives a wild thing. He loves to run. He's getting a little old and thin around the edges, but sometimes he still loves to run hard. So on Tuesdays I open the gate and turn him loose. He and I run free and headlong for no reason other than the sheer animal joy of unfettered movement and open pores and long muscles relaxed by exhaustion. We plod back to the gym on a well-used path that wriggles in right angles through a shady cemetery, a trail respectful of graves and those who no longer run. We juxta (next to) pose (a place) our loping body above the dead. We feel very alive.
My Tuesday trips through this graveyard are brief and superficial, at least for the time being. Here on the daylight side of the dirt, I’m unaccustomed to visits by the dead. I’m especially unaccustomed to seeing these particular dead. They are too damned smart to die by the usual means—cars, cats, windows, power lines, and bird-snatching hawks. But here he was—a crumple of wet black feathers, still shiny even in subdued light beneath big Douglas-firs.
I want to believe this crow didn’t die alone. I like the idea that his buddies were with him high in the fir limbs, all of them hunched against a January storm. Then when the cold wet wind became too much, his gray nictitating membranes slid slowly over each bronze eye. Blackness enveloped blackness. Ebony feet relaxed, relinquished the branch to winter. His lifeless body landed with a muffled PLOP in needle duff and green rosettes, right wing outstretched, head cocked, left side dirt down, dark beak closed forever.
When I was young I stalked a flock of crows from cottonwoods along the river bottom, dark birds scattered like basalt cobbles across corn stubble. I remember a feral surge of unreasoning joy from the airborne crumple of dusky feathers meeting birdshot. There must be a hundred reasons to hate these big-brained wise-ass eaters of songbird nestlings and basking garter snakes, raucous hawk mobbers, stealers of unguarded subway sandwiches. But I’m done with all that. My self-righteous bloodlust has evaporated, partly with age, partly with knowledge and books by Marzluff and Heinrich. Crows are just too damned smart. You know what I mean?
Now I’m a funny old guy visiting the dead in midday dusk, pores wide open and oozing sweat. I stand with outstretched hand cupped downward above this damp rumple of darkness, maybe in a blessing, maybe catching a wisp of life or cool breath of hollow-boned death rising into conifers.
My tired animal and I jog on, grateful to be dodging headstones.