The Crow Nest

I didn’t visit the country by choice. But grandma was happy to see me. Her surgery earlier in the year had left her unable to help herself as much. I knew my mom wanted to finally get rid of me. Now instead of spending the summer flirting with boys and browsing aisles of overpriced makeup, I would be here. Hours away from the city.

Grandma asks me to help her clean the house. I find myself enjoying some of the cleaning and the way my nostrils burn from the fumes. The nothingness around the small house surrounded by forest trees. My body craves that unknown feeling.

In the mornings, I wake to the chirping near a pine tree outside my window. I grab water from the nightstand and take a few sips. My dry throat feeling some slight comfort. From the edges of the windowsill, I see what I make out to be a few feathers. I pull myself out of bed and open the window trying to grab one. They fall to the ground looking like glass shards ready to impale my body.

I never actually see the crows, but sometimes I hear them.  Hanging laundry on the clothesline is usually when I hear them the most. From the tops of the redwood trees. Sometimes it feels like the forest behind the home is their playground. I find myself wondering what it feels like to be pecked to death by them. Grandma calls me back inside. They continue laughing, knowing I’ll be back near them soon.

The neighbor girl, Esther, tells me the crows are very smart. She’s about my age, a little nice but slightly weird. I could see someone like her not fitting in with other kids. She explains she can understand birds. I don’t know how to respond. I agree with her about the ways city folk are not in tune with nature. The city is surrounded by skyscrapers and sidewalks. Brief trips to the park are not the same as being on the Reservation surrounded by nature.

When I left the treatment facility, I knew my mother was embarrassed to take me back. The way she looked at me as I was being discharged made me feel ashamed. The life she wanted was limited by having me around. Her new husband hated kids. There was no space for me in the cramped apartment. The resentment from the years of being a single mom, and the drama with my father in and out of prison.

Grandma has always been kinder to me than my mother was. But she lived too far for us to regularly visit. I knew she would not treat me like a burden. The only feeling I knew my entire life. Around her I didn’t need to pretend, try to satisfy like I did around mother. My grandma, at her old age, chose to move back onto our ancestral lands.

For once in my life, I felt a freedom I never felt. The iron cage I always imagined holding me down inside, loose. When mother drives away, I feel it swelling. That feeling of knowing I will probably never have to see her again. The freshly lacquered nails and her peony-stained cheeks. I won’t miss the rude comments she makes about the plainness of my face or how my new haircut makes me look like my father.

Esther is the first person besides my mother I allow to touch my hair. I let her braid it for me. Her delicate fingers weave in and out of each strand. She is the first person I tell, outside of my family, about my time at the facility. Never does she judge me or make me feel as if I am being observed. When the sunlight hits Esther’s round face, her eyes look a pretty golden brown.

I tell Esther about the time my mother came to visit me at the facility. The meeting was short and awkward. My mother’s makeup looked dark, and her outfit overdone. The echo of her heels against the linoleum floor louder than I had remembered before. We didn’t hug or say we loved each other. That was when I realized I would never be wanted in her life.

In the evenings, I sit and watch grandma do her beadwork. She tells me she will teach me if I want to learn, and even the tricky peyote stitch. Sometimes I want to ask her how my mom was when she was younger. Was she a kind girl like Esther? Was she as selfish as she is now? These questions seem important but when I want to ask, it’s time for bed.

In the city, I struggled to make friends, as much as I hate to admit it. There was always something I desired more than I could find. But I hid it from myself. I tried to make my mother happy. I stained my lips and cheeks. Dressed like the girls I envied. Starved myself so she wouldn’t comment about my figure anymore. Wore dresses even though I hated them.

For months, I stole medication from her new husband. I’d swallow them to see how I felt. He didn’t notice at first. His eyes stayed glued watching old cowboy shows when he got home from work. The type of man who wanted a wife to wait on him. I watch her trying to mold into a role she can never be. Especially as a Native American woman married to an older White man like him.

When I eat dinner, I do so in my room. I avoid my mother and stepfather as much as I can. Sometimes I steal his cigarettes. Occasionally I ration the ones I have so he won’t notice. When everyone is asleep, I go on the balcony and pretend I am someplace else. I enjoy watching the blanket of stars greet me. A sense of comfort as I exhale the smoke.

They found me on the bathroom floor. The doctors thought it was a suicide attempt. I don’t remember much. But I remember that almost dying felt better than living. Felt that missing desire for something I didn’t understand. The room of the hospital felt so quiet. The white walls, hearing each patient breathing. When I sleep, I see friends that don’t exist in real life.

The unusual thing about watching baby crows hatch is the sliminess of their skin. The way their mama seems to understand naturally how to care for them. How defenseless they seem. But I desire to see what they will become. Esther tells me about a dance she heard about that some tribes do called a Crow Hop, and I find myself wishing I could see this. She promises me one day we will go to a Pow Wow to see it. Somehow, I envy the baby crows even more.

Sometimes, when I’m busy in the house, I look out the window to make sure the baby crows are okay. When it rains, I worry they might not survive. I try to imagine their mother is nearby, ready to conceal them with her leathery black wings. I worry about the wind knocking down their nest. But maybe once the sunshine comes, it will warm their small little beaks.

Esther comes and asks for me one morning. Usually, we meet in the evening. I peek my face through the cracked window near the door telling her to wait. I grab a basket of freshly washed laundry preparing to hang it as we talk. I notice a new parka on her body. It’s black and almost looks a bit too large for her small frame.

We walk near the clotheslines as I begin quickly hanging the clothing. I want to ask her about the baby crows. But I wonder if she already knew. Would she feel sad as I did realizing they might finally leave us? My grandma’s house was closer to the nest than hers so I felt responsible. Because of the weather, I hadn’t checked in a few days. Her mood told me not to be worried.

Beneath the early morning sun, her brown eyes looked lighter than I noticed before. We walked towards the tree. I wanted to tell her I saw the nest empty last evening, but I didn’t want her to know my obsession with the crows caused me to peek before her. My stomach churned slightly, unsure how to proceed.

Beneath our feet we see it. A small black trail of feathers scattered around the dirt floor. We both stay quiet until we finally hear them. She looks up and seems slightly surprised. The wind hits some of the branches making a swishing sound. I look up and see it. On a small dogwood branch I see what appears to be small crows swaying. Something about it makes me cherish this moment between us. These baby crows are motherless, and ready to face the world.

Delaney R. Olmo is a writer who graduated from the MFA program at California State University, Fresno. She has been a finalist and semifinalist for several poetry prizes. She is an enrolled member of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Feminist Formations at John Hopkins University Press, Green Linden, Solstice Literary Review, Abalone Mountain Press, and many others. Read more of her work at

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