Still Life with Bird Holes

Sarah Rose Etter


I put you up in the purple mountains. The drive was three hours long. I took you against your will, strapped your body into the car.

"Where are we going?" you asked.

I turned up the radio, 180 minutes of talk radio or awful melodies. I was sick of you by then.

When we stood on the purple rocks, you set your sharp eyes on me.

"You don't mean it."

I got into the car and locked the doors. You banged on the windows, running and screaming, spit flecking on the glass.


I picked up enough speed to shake you off.


The ride was silent and clean. At home, I stood next to the sink in silence, all that gleaming silver.

Two days in, I discovered joy again. I walked around the house nude, freshly shaven, soft for myself.

Three days in, I could feel you throbbing in the wilderness. I wanted your hands back on my legs. There was stubble by now, your favorite.

Four days in, I was so lonely I ate an entire roast. A small ritual: the body of meat in the silver pan, the flooding scent of its flesh. I coached the chakra at the base of my spine to open.

I surrounded myself with the following: blooming red lotus, deep sea salts, red peppers, red meats, oils from foreign lands. I even did my special humming.

My hips stayed locked. 

You were so far away I forgot what your face looked like, forgot the first time you slid into me. You were finally a black speck against the dark lavender of the land and I ached for you.

At the store, I wandered through fluorescence until I found a pair of binoculars, a silent way to call you back to me.


At home in the binoculars, local birds had begun a series of sweeping attacks, cross-hairing at your face, feathered bullets hungry for your eyes.

"Help me," you cried.

The birds built up speed, jammed down through the air again.

I went paralyzed as usual. It was my skill. I kept my eyes through the apparatus glass as you ducked and cowered.

It had been months since I felt you were precious. But there you were, on that mountain, covering your contorted face from the beaks.


Do you weep with want for me? The mountain recalls the purple of flowers or exotic screensavers. I watch your body for signs of sobbing or collapse. Instead, you seem to forage or sleep. Or is that death?

I met you at a strange time in the red fields. That was the first time I knew a heart could pinch like a nipple, twist itself up into wet want.

"I live here now," you said. You swung your arms wide to gesture to the bloodied lands around us.

Later, I dreamt of you in the brightly lit convenience store aisles of love, wandering between my ribs, which were fluorescent.


On the mountain, larger birds were drawn to you. Have you always been bait? Your whole life, a single worm on a slender silver hook?

At night, I sense you are eating clumps of dirt: your body in the slits between the trees, the earth streaked black between your teeth.


The birds increase their velocity. Their black wings pulse the sky, the low chorus of slick feathers. Within the binoculars, a miniature version of you tries to fight them off with a fallen branch.

I begin my research. Native birds which would want to eat you:

Double-Toothed Kite
Black Vulture
Common Black Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Golden Eagle
An Array of Goatsuckers

If you should be eaten, I want to choose. Devoured quickly, without pain.

At night, I surround myself with the salts and the meats again. I light the red candles.

I hum golden eagle, golden eagle, goatsucker.


For months, I was bottomless. In our home, I moved like the deepest sea.

I thought I was pregnant, but it was only the bloat of endless riddles under my skin. I read books about the ocean, studied the hearts of the octopus. I researched bioluminescence.

"What's wrong with you?" you asked.

"Some species of fish glow six times redder in the deep sea," I said.

"I said what's wrong with you?"

"An octopus has three hearts. Two are for breathing under water. One is for the blood."

You snatched the book out of my hands. You took me up in your arms then. You pressed your lips against my forehead.

"You're wild," you said.

I felt feverish and sweaty. I felt a choking in my gills. Suffocating is how it feels when the love goes out.

Before I went bottomless, I couldn't resist the way I loved you.

Flash quickly to the following scenes: Our bodies on bar stools, our bodies pressed together finally, our bodies consuming eggs in the morning.

Each day, I learned a new way to incorporate you. Each day, I grew around you like a pearl.


In the night, my body makes a new sweat out of lust. I wake with my hand between my legs. I cannot stand my want for you. It is the fifteenth day.

In the binoculars, I read your lips as you scream "Son of a bitch!" The birds are an awful gang above your head again. 

I slam the binoculars to the counter. The keys click into the ignition.


I drive hours before you come into view. I climb out of the steel and into the air. Below us, the town looks miniature enough to smash under foot. That's what I want, to crush those below us like foliage.

Your cheeks are sharp as rock now. You stand beneath the bird-filled sky, that feathered pressure.

"You!" you bellow, not out of love but fury.

The hunger of the birds becomes its own cloud. They swoop down at us, angrier than ever.

A golden eagle knocks smaller birds out of the way, dives toward your face.

"You poor thing," I cry. I throw my body over yours.

"This is your fault! Get the fuck away from me!," you bellow, trying to separate our bodies, as the birds thunder down.

In the end, it is the golden eagle. He swoops down, his wide, wide wings throwing a shadow over our bodies.

His claws wrap around your new thin shoulders. I punch at his talons, try to pry them off one by one. It is too late.

He brings his beak to your eyes quickly. It is simple and clean: one, two, gulp. Your head slumps back into the dirt, red gapes where your eyes should be.

In an instant, the birds are all upon you. Your body is now made out of feasting feathers, heaving and gnawing.

I run at them, kicking and screaming, trying to save some of you. They turn their beaks on me for one terrible instant, pecking at limbs, blooms of blood blossoming all over my body.

I keep my face covered.


I drive home with your body strapped into the front seat, all the windows down. The city is lit up below us, a series of pinpricks in the darkness. The silence widens, then deepens. We both stare out at our nothings. I am always learning from you.