gives a lunchtime presentation
over chicken salad sandwiches.
His topic: the preservation of the habitat
of the eastern bluebird, a protected species.
Our employer gives us a break from our
cubicles to show their support of wildlife.
If we can make a place for nesting, maybe
everyone will forget about the chemicals.
Outside our window, the accountants play
cornhole, tallying and bellowing.
The man explains that the house sparrow
is not from here, but introduced and invasive.
They displace the native bluebirds,
prevent them from thriving. He explains
how to catch them in a burlap sack, snap
their necks, ensure quick deaths. Do our part.
I went to this talk because I loved birds, not
because I feel capable of murdering them.
I want to say: come, sparrows, I’ll feed you, native
or not, I know about thriving without belonging.
Turns out it was a bad time to get into crypto.
Not enough of us believed in the pretend money and it stayed pretend.
Sort of like when my son traded all his quarters for pennies because he liked the heft of it.
He wanted to feel weighed down by fortune.
Wanted something sturdy as a tree.
He spends a lot of time in trees. In their cacophony.
There’s an app that you can hold up to the air to identify the calls of various birds.
If only we knew what they were saying: the cardinal, the tufted titmouse.
Probably something like “What the hell have you done?” and “I’m too cute for this shit!”
Probably something like “Doom’s just ahead, you idiots. Don’t say we never warned you.”
Turns out there’s no cool way to put an app inside a poem.
It just sits there steaming and stinking.
Like a human inside a tree.
Surrounded by the vapors of the dinosaurs we burned to get there.
Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be telemarketers.
Let them be climbers of trees.
Even though someone’s wished a pox on you, and you, and me.
Even though new threats invade this place every day.
Like the spotted lanternflies who sap each tree and leave them to wither.
Turns out every child has the capacity to kill, even when you raise them a pacifist.
But they can kill and kill, stomp until their sneakers are innards-slick, and it will mean nothing.
The flies lay their eggs higher than we can reach. They proliferate.
Really, we should commend their evolution.
Really, our days are numbered, whichever threat it is that ends us.
Turns out doom is coming whether we decipher the warnings or not.
Functionaries trading freedom for dollars. We don our shiny collars. Appreciate the view of the
highway. Calculate the severity of our evening commute. Enjoy the stream of coal cars, the
climate control. Coffee’s brought in, food’s brought in. There’s no hard-won Orange Julius
costing an hour’s wage, after taxes. No ups, no downs, no furtive kisses behind the wayfinding
signage. No soft pretzel bought with the promise of a later favor. No walking, perfectly coiffed,
down the corridor, past the sum of the town. No hushpuppies. Oh, hush, puppy, at least it wasn’t
razed. At least we can bring our kids to stare and say, here is where it all used to happen. A
website is no place for a heartquake. You want to be somewhere where you can walk in a circle
that never stops. Where behind every storefront is a smiling Denise, a glam Tammy, ready to sell
you something to take the pain away.
Jessica Manack holds degrees from Hollins University and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing has recently appeared in Women Speak, Maudlin House, and Rubbertop Review. She is a recipient of a 2022 Curious Creators Grant. Keep up with her at @jessicamanack on Twitter.