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?”


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