ç Gone Lawn 52 : Bella Rotker
Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 52
beaver moon, 2023

new works

Bella Rotker

Becoming weightless
after Emily Pittinos

My mother says I was born beneath feathered branches in Caracas at 6:35 am. Like my brother, I was born two weeks later than I should have been, in the last week of the coldest month of the year.

Human embryos mirror characteristics of fish and avian embryos at first. At the four week mark, human development diverges, never passing through the stages of the other species again.

My mother says I was born hairless, masked in fluid and mucus, like a bird freshly hatched.

We have always wanted desperately to be bird-like. Icarus tried to escape prison by flight. In 1896, a man strapped feathered wings to his back and jumped off a cliff, hoping to fly. Sixty six years elapsed between when the Wright Brothers’ feet first left the ground in Kitty Hawk and when we put a man on the moon. What happens to a person in these foundational years can make her prone to flight.

I heard the dog slept outside the nursery for months after my first return. The second time an infant had come to take her place. She tripped anyone who tried to go through the doorway. She didn’t care about me. She wanted her mother back.

Humans have developed defense mechanisms to protect us from ourselves. Big eyes. High-pitched wails, begging to be stuffed with milk or a worm. A team of Russian psychologists determined that babies copy their mother’s psychological defense mechanisms as a means for survival. We teach them early that pain is a weapon.

When it knows it’s under watch, the kildeer mother is known to fake a broken wing, limp and call loudly to distract a predator from her young.

In birds, as in humans, the most vulnerable place for impact is the neck. Feathers and a layer of skin mask a small pouch of muscle and gravel. If punctured, there is no opportunity for survival, no reason to bring back what’s already gone. The human throat is similarly muscle and vein masked in skin. A gash, or a gasp of air, and one is too far gone. The vulnerability is strategic. Hidden beneath feathers and skin and hair.

Often, it is considered more humane to euthanize a bird when the lungs begin to fail, the walking is labored and difficult, the wing is broken and will not heal. When the treatment is worse than living. The procedure is quick, painless. One chemical for the pain, for sedation. Another one stops the heart.

The first time someone I knew died, it was my grandfather. My kindergarten teacher sent home an Arthur book about grief wrapped in birthday paper. She told me to bring it straight home, give it to my mother. My brother and I made her read the book over and over again until the moon plunged beneath the poinciana and the birds came out. It’s not that we couldn't grasp the concept of death. We just couldn’t understand how it was happening to us.

My mother always said the dog ran so quickly around the terrace that she was afraid she’d take flight. She pushed potted plants to the perimeter of the apartment to keep her back.

Recent studies have shown that birds have the capacity to experience depression. They get sad when mates or babies die. Jaybirds will perch by their empty nest, calling softly for their chicks to return.

The dog died in my mother’s arms some time after 3 am when I was in second grade. We skipped school the next day, slept on the couch. My mother fed us oatmeal, dug the grave in the yard.

Humans yearn to be anything but themselves. Weightless, in flight. It is easier to be animal than to be alive. Some wish so desperately to become natural again that in death they are left on mountaintops to be scavenged by birds. Sky burial, some believe, is our only chance at becoming ornithological.

My father flew home for my grandfather’s burial. Recited the Mourner's Kaddish over his body. There are some parts of these deaths that are expected, prepared. The washing of the body. The tearing of cloth. Some are incidental.

My father taught me to drive in a golf cart. I swerved into a heron just after the sun had set. It wasn’t poetic, just the first thing I’d ever killed. My father watched while I sang to its stiff body, carried it off the road.

Bella Rotker studies at Interlochen Arts Academy. Their work appears in JAKE, Full Mood Mag, Fifth Wheel Press, The Lumiere Review, Neologism and Best American High School Writing, among others. When she’s not writing or fighting the patriarchy, Bella’s hanging out with friends, watching the lakes, and looking for birds. bitly./bellarotker