birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


I know so very little. It's all suspicion. I know she left him. Left him before he was really old enough to know her. Perhaps he knew arms, perhaps he knew lips, resting softly on the crown of that infant head. Perhaps he knew loss. She was Ruby. A name that seems exotic for early in the twentieth century. Gypsy, wild child, wanderer, farm hand, knocked up early in life, maybe against her will if she even knew what will was.

My mother says that there's a grave, somewhere in rural New York, a grave amidst what was then farmland, what is no doubt now strip malls and fast food. She worked the farm. He came to town. There was the suggestion of romance, the hint of violence, the shotgun by their side as they lay in the spring time fields where my father was conceived. Ice work in winter, bringing the blocks off the lake and laying them into the house for cold keeping. Man's work.

Ruby brought the pot of stew for dinner, coffee in the kettle when there was a moment to sit down. Brought his son, the son he would leave behind. Left child, abandoned again and again. So Ruby died, somewhere in the midst of the great depression. Maybe she was hungry.

Certainly hungry for more time, hungry for the child to turn to her with words and knowing in his eyes, his blue eyes that were hers and that are mine. Maybe she was brought down by cancer, the cancer that went underground with her and surfaced in me eight decades later. She's not telling. I'd like to think she was all cheek bones and beaked nose, the sort of structure my father's face was built upon, the bones that I trace with my fingers when I spend a moment too long with the mirror, the strong arc that is my son's inheritance and his fortune, a beauty that might be invested, could be squandered, will take some time to lay to waste. Ruby's beauty has fallen to pieces, is ash in that ground that may be marked that I don't know how to find. A gem. Sparkling in the ashes or at least gleaming in memory.