And there are hours or days or weeks or sometimes longer where you, by which I mean I, lose track of having done anything right, anything good, anything not bad, in fact—not to diagnose, but to describe, or at least say it, at least say it, and I suspect it is what makes me sometimes want so badly to be alone, so badly to flee into my long and abiding and gentle solitude, that I feel in some genuine sparrow and oxen part of myself that I should go away, the what have I done I’m talking about, and away the light would turn the pawpaw leaves into stained glass canoes, away the light would fall in cleansing shafts through the dark, or away the faces of strangers would not even notice me except as another animal dragging his long nose through the grasses, and so yes and thank you somedays but always too to have a grown man who you coached as a child tell you by which I mean me like snapping his fingers like the tenderest throttle like how sweet it was that time you came up to the crooked hoop at the school when me and my brother were shooting and you talked to us little kids and rebounded for us a little as we clanged our shots and joked with us laughed with us and complimented mine and Dougie’s shots before taking off I never forgot that thank you.
Today’s workout I was hearing the chirps I sometimes make when I miss. I think I often chirp, but today, shooting so much, and my missing so many shots, the chirping itself became a volume, I could hear it newly because I could see you gathering up my rebound as I chirped, a tiny chickadee flickering across your face, and then I maybe noticed other people looking at the bird I become sometimes. Because that bird can be very loud, not to mention big for a bird. Emu big I think. Ostrich big I think, but not that fast. Better shooter though. Better court vision to boot. But pottymouthed. Gutter my mom says. But the song is kin to some of the jay screams I hear sometimes in the neighborhood, their blue hollers telling some of the other critters, heads up. The elbows are here. The knives are coming out. Or sometimes it’s a cardinal, a little more mellifluous, a little more self-loving. On the chain-link fence, or a wound in the sycamore’s eye. Or sometimes the birds are doves, cooing, soft as the down in a milkweed pod, sometimes a loon, pleading through a lake’s yawn of fog. But today, it was those murders who take up residence in town, in the tall trees on the square or on campus, making with their waste on the asphalt and poor cars parked beneath them beautiful, annoying paintings. Theirs is one of the truest songs I know, and pretty, a little bit plaintive and every bit wise. Their song is a little bit mercy, I think, I remember, which is why they are sometimes called mercybirds. The mercybirds are back, we sometimes say, hearing their black flight overhead. The mercybirds are back. Watching us from above. They always come back to where the pain was. To where the hurt. There there they say, the flocks and flocks singing from this mouth. The mercybirds they say there there.
Photograph of Ross Gay by Adewale Agboola.