House after house. Every year, closets emptied. Clothes cleaned out, my dolls. Where did Mom take them? Salvation Army? A neighbor's garage sale?
Sandhill cranes, warblers, flycatchers, swallows—all fatten up before the long flight, need to keep those chest muscles strong, keep air moving through the lungs as they leave their summer home for their winter home, following the supply of grasses, seeds, insects. Then back again in spring.
All the places Mom left. As a child, sailing from London to Hong Kong and back. At twenty, from Hong Kong across the Pacific to Seattle, the train to New York, and a year later, back to England on the Queen Mary. And then across the Atlantic to New York again. Alone.
Songbirds return to the same spot year after year. Travel in flocks, rely on their neighbors. Safety in numbers. Those journeys can last twelve thousand miles. Less than half survive the trip.
No aunts or uncles, no grandparents, no cousins around. Town after town, neighborhood after neighborhood, school after school, I was always the new kid, talking funny. And with asthma, as if a hole had been pierced in each lung. Flattened. Easier to pack.
(First published in The Paterson Review, 2018)