Ask a Crow
CHARLES ISRAEL JR.
It used to be her favorite cologne, so I splash some on. I look out the bathroom window, across Division Street. The building across the street has a huge, flat rooftop that takes up too much of my vista. On the rooftop, a wooden water tank. And there, under it, lies the bow for an upright bass. Also, there’s a coffee cup turned cistern, from which a crow bobs and drinks.
The cologne’s extracted from a small, alpine flower—speick. A smell that penetrates. As a punishment during the dark ages, they’d lock people in barns where they were hanging speick flowers to dry. After release, the person could be still be identified as guilty, for weeks—by the smell. Chief crimes for the speick barn were the theft of cattle or sheep, and also adultery.
Last weekend, to try to get things right, we drove all the way to a run-down cottage on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan. We talked about what to eat and drink, and then we ate and drank. The place had two bedrooms. In the living room, we stood at the locked sliding glass doors. Lake and sky filled the glass. The sun rose and set two times, bursting from the watery horizon, then falling into it.
From the only other room in our apartment, the big room with its one big window, I hear her: Are you going to leave me like this? Are you going to leave me like this? Like the chorus of some old soul tune, one with the verses understood. She’s standing on the window sill, a hand and a foot in each corner.
She turns her head. Her face has folded in on itself, like origami. I grab her by the waist. With my face pressed into her back, I hear her breathing, hard. Wait a minute, she says, Is that my bow?
She jumps down to check the bass case for her bow. I’d felt bad the second I released it. But then, as it sailed over the street, turning end over end, I heard its music. Like the first time I heard her play music: there, at her spring orchestra rehearsal, me the only one in the audience. She sounded so beautiful: I fell in love. Thief and adulterer, she says, all rolled into one.
I jump onto the window sill and go spread-eagled. Like a paratrooper at the jump-door, I turn my hands inside out, my fingers pointing toward Division. I’m set, ready to fly over. Ready ask the crow: What do I do now? What have I done? How do I get her back? Can I get her back? But he unfolds his wings and flies off, the bow in his beak.
CHARLES ISRAEL JR. teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. His poetry chapbook, Stacking Weather, was published by Amsterdam Press. His poems and stories have appeared in numerous journals, including Field, Crazyhorse, The Cortland Review, Nimrod International Journal, Pembroke Magazine, Zone 3, Journal of the American Medical Association, and North Carolina Literary Review.