Red Birds

By Melissa Ballard

October 17, 2016

Red Birds
I hand the plate of raw vegetables to Dad. He sets it on the shelf attached to the grill, settles his arm around me. Pointing to the tree above, he says, “See those red birds?”

I, with my college education, am too busy for birds, but I’m vigilant about dad’s vocabulary. He was born and raised in rural Ohio, on the upper lip of Appalachia.

“Cardinals, Dad. They’re cardinals,” I say.

He smiles and squeezes my shoulder.

After he dies, cardinals are everywhere. Flash of red, or pewter dusted with orange. Crossing my line of vision as I walk, early mornings. Appearing at my office window when I am writing an essay, searching for the right words. Distinct, snapping sound if I fail to look up.

Cardinals conjure cliché: holiday card bird, tchotchka bird, official bird of seven states. And yet, every time a slim male with a firm crest bows his head, selects a single seed from the feeder tray, pivots to the female, and places it gently in her mouth, I pause. To the stillness, I whisper, “See those red birds?”


Comments (18) - Post a Comment
I know where it's going from the first sentence, but that only serves to tighten my grip on the roller-coaster hand rail of emotions. Thank you for the ride alongside.
Scott at 8:50am EDT - October 17, 2016
Unlike Scott, I didn't know where this was going! But I adore where it ended up--there's multiple layers of communion here. As an appreciative cardinal-watcher myself, I really loved this.
Sue at 8:57am EDT - October 17, 2016
Gorgeous. Just beautiful. Thank you.
sue at 9:32am EDT - October 17, 2016
Love the imagery in here, especially this: " Flash of red, or pewter dusted with orange." Thank you!
Leah at 10:25am EDT - October 17, 2016
Beautiful. My father too loved "red birds" and would point them out to me.
Susan Apel at 11:41am EDT - October 17, 2016
So much detail, description, and insight in this essay. Reading it filled me with a sense of peace.
Iris Graville at 2:11pm EDT - October 17, 2016
it brought a tear to my eyes. so simple, yet so very moving.
Sandy at 3:28pm EDT - October 17, 2016
Lovely! This piece resonates, beautifully, with me. I grew up in Kentucky (state bird: cardinal). I attended George Rogers Clark High School (mascot: cardinal). Whenever I see a "red bird", I think of Kentucky. Thanks for sharing.
Vana Plaisance at 4:58pm EDT - October 17, 2016
Thank you Scott, Sue, Sue, Leah, Susan, Iris, Sandy and Vana for these lovely comments.
Melissa Ballard at 5:58pm EDT - October 17, 2016
You have captured so perfectly the hubris of youth that gives way to the regret and wistfulness and belated appreciation when our parents are gone. Thank you so much for this beautiful thing; it brought a lump to my throat.
Melissa Hoagland at 7:39pm EDT - October 17, 2016
You're so welcome, Melissa! Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
Melissa Ballard at 3:55pm EDT - October 18, 2016
Adrienne Pilon at 8:12pm EDT - October 18, 2016
Thanks, Adrienne!
Melissa Ballard at 6:11pm EDT - October 21, 2016
You know, Melissa, this reads like a prose poem. Such clear simple writing that is so evocative of your relationship with your dad and hints at his history and yours. Just superbly done.
Susanne Fletcher at 9:38am EDT - October 22, 2016
Melissa - I have a red bird tattoo in memory of my loved ones that have passed. I enjoyed your essay. Thanks for sharing.`

Your grandaughter is beautiful!
Jan Blanco at 2:30pm EDT - October 25, 2016
Thanks, Susanne and Jan, for taking the time to post these kind comments.
Melissa Ballard at 6:57pm EDT - October 25, 2016
I love this--thanks
Marianne Janack at 8:28pm EST - January 14, 2017
I think this is the most evocative and beautiful flash of any variety, fiction or non-fiction, I have ever read. And the ending is truly perfect.

I came here from a very recent piece of yours from Brevity, "Slow Flash", so I'm late to comment. I'm so glad you linked to it there.
Tricia at 4:00am EDT - May 2, 2018

Post A Comment

Name: (*Required)
Email: (*Required)
- Not Displayed With Comment

« Back to Beautiful-Things

Newsletter Sign Up

shadow shadow