Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it,
and it is grace itself which makes this void.
The peacock came in the rain, carried to our doorstep in the arms of three neighborhood boys who had found it raiding campground trash in the Jemez Mountains. Legs tangled in black twine, throat clogged with fishing line, it burrowed its head into my mother’s shoulder.
“Sol pavo,” she whispered. “Sun bird.”
With tweezers and cotton cloth she tended the thread-bound tongue, and with bath towels and bed sheets made a laundry-room nest, then flicked off the light to watch it sleep.
The next morning, it left her a feather, blue and green, a shimmering eye.
The owl arrived on Beggar’s Night in my big brother’s jacket, after he found a nest shot full of holes in the ditch bank. Our mother named the hatchling Tirzah, after a beautiful city in the Bible, and released her into our living room to fly.
On summer days while we swam the silvery streams of the Jemez Mountains, the owl slept in the shade, near my mother, tethered to a piñon branch with turquoise yarn.
One afternoon, we waded too long, slept in the sun, and woke to an empty branch and a broken string. We searched for hours but found nothing. Turning to leave, words stuck in her throat, my mother saw a pair of yellow eyes shining from a streamside shrub, bright as dimes.
“Tirzah,” she whispered, and extended her finger.
Wind gusted. Sparrows flew free.
The owl hopped on, held tight.
The parrots escaped, and escaped again, slipping through wire bars or lifting the cage latches with crescent beaks to unravel Navajo rugs and nibble the edges of Time.
Maybe it’s wrong, my mother thought, to take in strays, to rescue a pair of dime-store lovebirds, as green as the African jungles from which they came. Alegria and Mariposa, she called them, “Happy” and “Butterfly.” Maybe, she thought, to hold too close is a sin.
One morning, while filling a crystal bowl with sunflower seeds, she found a nest of loose yarn and magazine shavings beneath the trapeze swing. Inside: an egg, perfect as a pearl.
A white dove greeted my father in the days before he died. Satin feathers, sapphire eyes, it waited each morning outside his Route 66 pharmacy. He turned his key and it followed him to the soda fountain counter, where he snuffed another Pall Mall and fed it potato chips by hand.
“Look at that,” customers marveled. “So tame. As if it knows you.”
“And as these words were said, the birds began to open their beaks, to stretch their necks, to spread their wings, and to bow their heads to the ground, endeavoring by their motion and song to manifest their joy. And St. Francis rejoiced with them, marveling to see such a multitude of birds, charmed by their beautiful voices. He made the sign of the cross and gave them leave to fly, and the birds rose into the air following the cross that he had made, dividing themselves into four companies: one flew east, another west, one toward the south, and one toward the north, carrying on their tongues all they had heard” (from The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi).
As child in Corrales, her parents in the fields, my mother woke to a meadowlark in the alfalfa outside her window. She never saw it, but she knew it was there, singing just for her.
My second-grade teacher, another widow, brought my family a snow goose. It limped into our backyard one morning with its loose hip and blind eye and fell beside the wishing well. With a cotton cloth and garden hose, my mother cleaned the yellow stains from his white feathers; she whispered the name she had given him, Washoti, after the gentle Indians of the Great Lakes.
“Pet him,” she told me. “Talk to him.”
Reaching out, I stroked the crooked wing.
Before they married, my father, childless, widowed, the last in his family line, took my mother flying in his white Cessna above the Rio Grande Valley, her first time in a plane.
Higher they rose toward the day moon, her village laid bare below.
She held his hand, held tight.
In the evenings, my child mother stood beside her grandmother on the ranch house porch in Corrales, watching swallows write cursive across the parchment sky.
“Look closely,” the old woman said. “Before it’s gone.”
A hawk circled our home, brown-black with two-foot wings, a gavilán, my mother said, the name of our street. She would be watering the trumpet vines on the wishing well when a shadow would slice across the grass. Once she parted the dining-room curtains to find a specter staring back from the front yard pine. No shout or prayer could drive the raptor away.
She could never see it coming, but she could sense it, sliding across the sun.
Alone in the mornings, my mother walked barefoot through the backyard grass, gathering feathers. She wrapped them in wax paper and placed the bundle inside her nickel-plated hope chest, beside a Navajo rug, a tobacco urn, a silver mirror, and a crown of thorns.
She sketched outside to clear her mind, practicing techniques she learned in fine art class, such as tone, texture, volume, and depth. Sometimes my mother invited me to join her, and we sat side by side with our easels, transforming found objects into still lives. But try as I might, I could not make my eggshell rise from the page, in three dimensions, like hers. Mine looked flat, static, dead. Holding my pencil above the page, she squinted at the broken sphere, and smiled.
“Look closely. It’s right there. Within the shadow, reflected light.”
He came to my mother in dreams. Stood at our front doorstep and knocked. She was glad to see him, my father, standing there with his silver hair, sad eyes, and immaculate white smock.
Always, she let him in.
Cobwebs grew thick between the bare studs of my mother’s unfinished back porch. Shoulder strained from tending her trumpet vines, she could not raise a broom high enough to sweep them away. In the evening, gauzy ribbons drifted like ghosts.
One morning, she woke to a flicker between the rafters, a hummingbird tangled in the threads. Dragging a chair to the light, she scanned the beams for the teardrop body of a black widow. Seeing none, she reached through the web as if passing her fingers through flame.
Tiny wings buzzed. Buzzed again. A tweezer beak opened and closed without a sound. Cupping the stray to her chest, she passed a washcloth over the blue and green feathers.
The hatchling remained absolutely still, soothed by her voice.
Slowly, painfully, my mother stepped from the chair into the grass by the wishing well.
Gazing up, she opened her hands.