Brandel France del Bravo

Resilience V

Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.
                                                —Simone Weil

Where you see COVID, I read corvid ever since a one-footed crow, imposing, totemic and gleaming black, came into my life, my only reliable companion in the pandemic. If a collection of crows is a murder, mine appears innocent. Is it true that crows hold funerals? What’s clear is they feel absence. We have that in common.

When quarantine began, I bought a bird feeder for my balcony and a mix of seed for “urban birds” (code for I don’t know what). Its smattering of peanuts lured a blue jay and my one-footed friend, but I was soon swamped by sparrows. They clustered, in defiance of the new norms, wing-to-wing inside the dish—toddlers in a ball pit at a fast-food restaurant—spilling food, covering my balcony, and the one below, with shit. I dispensed with seed in favor of crow delicacies—blueberries, dog kibble—too big for the chirping clouds of brown.

Unsure whether my solo crow wasn’t perhaps a raven and of gender, I named them René(e). I studied their comings and goings, which balconies and roofs they perched on, the trees they flew to at dusk, and their caws and open-beak silences as they stared at me through the window. Little by little, they trusted me enough to visit while I sat on the balcony watching. I admired how they balanced on the slippery steel railing and hopped on their one foot to the feeder, using their stump like a kick stand. I admired the strength in that one foot as it grasped the dish’s rim, talons wrapped tight, allowing the bird to dip its beak into the dish and lose sight for a second of the potential predator, book-in-lap. I wondered how a bird as smart as a corvid, known for dropping nuts in the shell from telephone wires and swooping down to eat the meat after a car has driven over them, could have lost a foot. Who hasn’t been the victim of poor timing—the overwhelming impulse to gossip about someone just as they’re entering the room? It will be days, maybe weeks before I know if the needs or desires I fulfilled today put me in harm’s way.

How much can a crow carry? Thief, trickster, minstrel Jim. One day, René(e) seized the plastic dish of kibble in their beak and flew away with it to my neighbor’s less precarious terrace. All of us are turning to take-out, all of us seeking safety. Three black stones weigh down the new dish.

I’m not fooling myself. Loss of fear isn’t attachment, and greedily taking what I give is not affection. Still, when this consumer of carrion lands next to me to drink, a few drops splashing my leg, I’m thrilled by contact with the water from their beak: foreign, intimate and cool in the ninety degree-heat. Walking in my neighborhood to buy food, go to the hardware store, I sense I’m under surveillance. The crows are too high up to see if any are missing a foot but I hear them like a new station on my radio dial where before there had been silence, static.

After a month or so, a two-footed crow, smaller than René(e), less ruffled, started showing up. Its sleeker build allowed a clear view of its legs and feet, strangely artificial in their perfection. René(e) and the new crow rarely come together, preferring to stagger their visits, one watching from a few stories above as the other eats and drinks. I assume that they are partners which has forced me to re-appraise René(e) much as I re-appraise daily this forced solitude, these many months separated from my husband by a border. COVID caught him like a thunderstorm, and he shelters in Mexico keeping his mother safe while worrying about his other family.


Now, I have two crows, like Rumi’s two hands:

If it were always a fist or always open,
You would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small
Contracting and expanding,
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
As birdwings


Daily, my crows crisscross the alley sky, rapid shadows in the corner of my eye. I see their flight reflected in my glass coffee table, like Odin’s two ravens, “thought” and “mind.” The Norse god with only one eye relied on Huginn and Muninn as spies and advisors. My crows will never sit on my shoulders or whisper in my ear. They’ve never even brought me a shiny trinket, although René(e) once left a cookie on my railing, which I took to be a gift until it disappeared. Still, I worry when I don’t see René(e), just as I worry when I meet a neighbor in the elevator who like me is hungry for exchange, for a peek behind the mask.

Starvation, predation—only half of crows survive their first year of life—the temptation of a run-over rat, a bite from a West Nile-infected mosquito: every danger surmounted is another twig in the nest. Without risk, there can be no resilience, but survival, like love, demands our close attention. What looks to us like crows sitting shiva may be forensics in formation: learn from this or get eliminated. What happened? they seem to ask as they gather around the body. We have that in common.

Resilience VII

When my husband, breaching a border, braving the virus,
finally came home again, my crow ghosted me: a flung
fling. Or was he the ambulance that quietly vanishes,
vitals restored? Two weeks went by before the bird
returned to my railing, skittish phantom, head
like a shaved pubis. Had he been attacked?
Envied for his access to endless kibble?
Picked on due to disability?
Each time, I saw him,
he looked worse
and I knew.
I knew the
shape of
this curve.
Until I didn’t,
and he started sloping
toward—there is no other word—
resplendence. Not dying but molting.

Brandel France del Bravo is the author of Provenance (a Washington Writers Publishing House poetry prize winner) and the chapbook Mother, Loose (Accents Publishing, Judge’s Choice Award). She is co-author of the parenting book, Trees Make the Best Mobiles, Simple Ways to Raise Your Child in a Complex World, and editor of the bilingual anthology, Mexican Poetry Today: 20/20 Voices. Her poems and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, the Cincinnati Review, Conduit, The Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, the Seneca Review, and elsewhere. She has been the recipient of several artist fellowship grants from the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts, which also awarded her the Larry Neal Writers’ Award in poetry. She teaches a meditation program developed at Stanford University called Compassion Cultivation Training.