Watching Nature on PBS

By Angela Voras-Hills

The caribou calf is separated from the herd, pursued
by the wolf. Unless it slips up, the calf could escape,
outrun it. The toddler grows restless and runs to the window,
watching the garbage truck back up, lift bins, and dump
our trash into itself. I don’t redirect her. My own childhood
window looked into a tree. All year, there were branches. Sometimes
covered in leaves, but by winter, they were bare. I often prayed
for a way out. I once spoke directly to God, said: “God, if you know everything,
what am I thinking now?” And I tried to think the opposite of anything
he’d expect me to think. Another time I said, “God, if you help me
leave this place,” but could think of nothing worth giving in return.
No matter how much we bargained, I never asked God to save our house
from fire, even after a house on our block burned down. I didn’t
ask him to spare us from cancer, Alzheimer’s, any other death. I believed
there was a reason for everything. When my mother asked me
to blow into her cup of dice for luck before she rolled them onto the bar,
I didn’t wonder what it meant if she didn’t win. Then, in high school,
a classmate was found dead in her bed. Her mother had gone to wake her,
but her heart had stopped beating. The parenting books say it’s good
to establish rituals. I run a bath, wash peanut butter from the toddler’s hair.
I rock her, sing folk songs about birds, and she sits up, pointing to a spider
climbing the wall. I watch it as I lay her in the crib, still singing
as her eyes close. I wait until she falls asleep.

Angela Voras-Hills‘ first book, Louder Birds, was chosen by Traci Brimhall for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Best New Poets, Memorious, and Prairie Schooner, among other journals and anthologies. She has received grants from The Sustainable Arts Foundation and Key West Literary Seminar, as well as a fellowship at Writers’ Room of Boston. She lives with her family in Milwaukee, WI.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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