That 2am caterwaul, the one somehow both deep and pitched to reach the innermost ear, like a sudden memory of guilt. The gift, a palm-small sack of bird, its feathers so young they haven’t yet hardened with flight or night cold or the alchemy of powderdowns. A nervous twitch in a twig leg is only a confidence trick; the opened chest is spit-clean, consumed with the suck and lick of slurping oysters or milk. Its wooden beak kisses your thumb, the hollowed body nestling inside your enormous hand like a sacrifice or tribute. I carve out a sparrow-sized grave in the garden, beneath the acrid bite of marigolds, the orange globes meaty and wet above dark winter dirt. In the morning, thick with fatigue and thoughts of work, you find a nest on the driveway, the chalky white shells of its contents cracked and sticky on the bricks. Inside the window, the cat sleeps, a dead weight heavy against the sun-warm glass.
Corpses are weed-thick, layered among bricks and iron pipes, and rain-struck under parachute clouds. Those are not shadows on the stone steps, but carbonized prints of bodies ghosted away in the instance of atomic release, vaporised faster than inhalation. On the third day, the bloody smell limping over the city, maggots start to drop from the living; by the riverbank, those are not sandbags. A girl sucks on the bones of her mother, white powder clotted in her teeth and hair, the taste of loneliness blooming in her small pink mouth. A father digs through roof rubble, unearths a milky white mound of teacups; an untouched jar of pickled plums; and the burnt out shell of his son.
Alyson Miller teaches literature and creative writing at Deakin University, Australia. Her short stories and prose poems have appeared in both national and international publications, including a collection of prose poems, Dream Animals (dancing girl press, 2014).