Upon Learning the Collective Noun for Swans Is a Lamentation—

by Katie Marya

Katie Marya

after John Murillo

I think first of the two crows I met while walking home
last October—both still but for their twitching heads,

the morning sun turning their black coats purple and green;
by walking I mean boarding a plane to Atlanta, the city

where my brother died, the city where I was born first
in 1988 at Piedmont Memorial Hospital, which is to say

I am the oldest and I saw the world before he did. I saw
the crows from the airport window, I was waiting for the line

to get smaller. Terminal windows make a pastoral painting
of every outside world and I wanted to know why the crows

decided on tarmac, why they landed here so close to
the equipment and cones and small vehicles shuttling

luggage, and if they were waiting for something, maybe
one of them was hurt or mad about having to settle in

and live, or they were hungry. I wanted to hear their language,
their drawl and shine. I said I met the birds, which implies

I heard them speak, but I never met them, I only saw them,
which implies a kind of silence: how silent I was walking

home, boarding that plane to my youngest brother’s funeral,
staring blankly at the outside world—my singular, private soul

twitching at every sudden movement. I could end here,
because what else is there to say about the young dying.

Yesterday I told a man I love that in two generations
no one will remember my brother, Sam. He was twenty-three—

as if being remembered is what makes a life. I want to be
small as I am small right now. Grief has bound me

to the women in my family. Let me tell you an old nuclear
genealogy: my mother married my father and had me.

My father did drugs. We left. My stepmom married
my father and had two boys. My brothers. My father

did drugs. They left. My brothers and her. My brothers
covered in the sound of these substances—this is how

Sam died: alone in his room on drugs he inherited
from our father. I am bound to my mothers, their mothers,

how they survived the mind-numbing color of my father’s
unsolvable white ache, how they bore us, how they nurtured

us, and in the end, Sam’s end, this forever place, how
they nurtured each other. These women. Imagine them,

let’s say, in 1985, all cheetah print and leather. My mom’s
blonde pixie cut. They were friends. And my stepmom

had this dress, black velvet. Wait. I don’t want to go back
that far yet. How am I to make nothing of this body,

as in, it was and now it isn’t—meaning in the time I have
left with hands, I won’t touch Sam’s again. Sometimes

I walk past the mason jar of his light green ashes; they’re
on my dresser next to the ceramic skull I bought in México

City, fat caterpillars and butterflies loping out of its eyes
and ears and I think about scrubbing my body with these ashes

in the shower. Sometimes I want to scrub my skin so hard
it comes off. I’m trying to register the nearness of him, Sam— 

language as a detector of infrared light. Where is he now,
if he is not here with me and our mothers? He would not

want me to deny our father this way, but I am so angry.
To write is to violate the father and I would be lying

if I said I did not want that. I want him to be dead and Sam
to be alive. Sam got the laced drugs on his own. I know. No,

that’s not quite right. Imagine my stepmom crying out,
finding my brother alone in his bed—the phone in her hand

dialing me, and me screaming through the silent sun
in my window. States away. I know no bird flies out

of my want for blame. No wings. But what for the word
responsibility? Or father? Or love? Our mothers—our

mothers in those black dresses in the 80s. The crows.
Why did they land there on the tarmac, so close

to the dangerous equipment and cones and small vehicles
shuttling baggage? Were they waiting for something?

Maybe one of them was hurt or mad about having to settle
in and live. I imagine they were hungry for the unsolvable—

my father as cunning and iridescent as an American crow.
I know the collective noun for crows is murder, a murder

of crows, meaning despite efforts to contain and eliminate
this species in certain areas, their population remains

vast and of least concern; of least concern. My brother.
I want to hear my mothers’ language, their drawl and shine,

in that time before I was made, before Sam was made.
I just got home from carrying a box of canned soup

to the church down the street—the man I’ve loved left it
here; last week he packed up and moved across the country.

Stay with me. I wish he would stay with me—I am trying
to get this all down: my father and my mothers, my brother,

and this lover, leaving. The cities and the crows. Cawing.
The birds are so loud. I was born in February, just before

Valentine’s Day, and this year I spent it in bed begging God
to help me hear my brother’s voice—when I finally got up,

I put on that black velvet dress, my stepmom’s, she had
given it to me for Christmas. I painted my lips pink

and underneath my black boots I wore cheetah print socks;
I made myself into my idea of my mothers when they were

younger. Made myself beautiful because I believed I could
make the man stay, made like a woman and tried to look happy,

if only for the night. It was cold outside, I made small talk
with the Lyft Driver, made myself eat the carrots, made myself

smile at my friends. And later when the night ended
and the street was wet with rain, after the man helped me

take off the dress, all tight and spine, after I didn’t sleep
and it was dawn, I stared out the window: the sun, how I wanted

it to change things but the dead do not come back. Still, I am
staring out the window waiting to see my brother appear.

Last updated December 01, 2022