BJ Hollars

How to explain all of this to an owl? As a forest full of game, but no hunger in your belly? Or to a lake overflowing with ripened fish, but no desire to leave the nest? Maybe I ask you about your own owlets, about the time the hawk swooped in but you would have none of it, or when the wind nearly knocked your young from the safety of its treetop. A word on the safety of treetops: they are not safe. Not when the wind picks up and then picks up everything with it. Spins houses like pinwheels, gathers fortunes in the gutters of the streets. When the tornado struck nine months back my poppy seed child was not knocked from his treetop, but only because he was locked inside a womb. He was just some poppy seed then, though we placed our faith in his multiplication. We believed that two cells times two cells always equaled four, that that product times two and two again could sometimes build a body. The tornado worked the same, but in reverse: multiplying in strength but then dividing. A fraction fractured like the houses.

If you flutter to this window, you can just make out my snoring wife's new shape in the hospital bed. And beyond her, you can see our once-poppy-seed-sized boy now grown. Imagine him as your owlet—all molt and trilling—but then imagine him as nothing at all. Imagine an egg once there but then gone, fallen from a treetop or beneath the top of a tree. All of this, of course, was chance—the tornado's tail turning left instead of right, up instead of down. If it had turned otherwise, then you and I would not be having this conversation. This snoring wife and I would not be crumpled here in this hospital room, but in a bathtub nine months back, in a world blown away with the plus sign of a pregnancy test.

But tonight, owl, I am proud to report that we are not crumpled inside any bathtubs. That there are no poppy seeds here except those scattered on the cafeteria tray. That the math added up, that the tornado recalculated its route. That the ripened fish remain somewhere in that frozen lake beneath you, and the bathtub remains intact. And that every time we check the math, two times two times two times two always builds a body.






I can't quit writing about babies and tornadoes. I've exhausted the topic, and yet I simply can't stop. Over and over again, I've written about the serendipity of learning of my wife's pregnancy in the days prior to the tornado. I've written about in with strike-thru, with blacked-out lines, as a multiple choice, as an open letter to the tornado itself, and finally, as a letter to an owl outside my wife's hospital room. The line I keep writing is "I am trying to write my way out of disaster." This was just another try.