There was a bird that pecked with its beak at the wood of the trees, in the trunks, which made holes in the trees where bugs lived, it seemed, though these bugs, the boys could not see them. The bird ate at the bugs that it pecked up and out of the wood, of the trunks, of the trees. It pecked holes, more than just one, and there were more than just one of these birds that pecked with their beaks in the trunks of the trees, in the wood of the trees, in the woods that the trees made to be, to get at and to eat the bugs that lived in the wood of these trees where these birds clung to the wood with their feet and bobbed with their heads and ate what was there for them to eat. When these birds pecked and then pecked and pecked at the trees some more, it made a sound that was a sound that the boys some days woke to and there were some days when this was a sound that made these boys not sleep when sleep was the one thing that they had it in their heads was the one thing for them to want to do. It was on a day when the boys had it in their heads to sleep till the sun rose up to the tops of the trees that the boys got up and out of their bed and they walked out of the house with their fists raised in the air and they shook their fists at the bird that pecked at the wood of the tree to get at the bugs that lived there so it—this bird—could eat. Eat this, one of the boys screamed, and picked up a rock with the fist that he liked to throw with and he threw this rock at the bird that pecked at the trunk of the tree which made a sound that kept the boys up from sleep when to sleep was the one thing that they had it in their heads to want to do. The rock hit the trunk of the tree but it did not hit the bird the way that the boy who threw it had hoped it would when he reared back with his arm to throw it, this rock. The bird did not move. It turned its bird head and looked at the boys who stood there in the woods when all that they had it in their boy heads to do was to sleep. Then it turned its head, this bird did, and with its bird beak it pecked its beak and made more holes in the trunk of this tree. It was the boy whose name was John who picked up a rock in the hand that he used to throw with and he reached back then and threw that rock as hard as he could throw it at where the bird was perched on the side of the tree with its feet dug in the bark and its beak that pecked at the wood to get at the bugs that lived in the wood of the tree so that it could eat the things that were hid down in there. This time, this boy, with this rock, did not miss. This rock, it hit the bird square in its head, in the back of its head, it was the back of its bird head that faced these boys, and this bird, it fell, like a rock might fall from the sky, where it hit the dirt of the ground with a soft, or some might call it, a dull thud. Take that, John said, and the boys ran to where the bird lay still as a rock might lay on the hard brown dirt of the ground. A soft wind blew through the trees and made it look as if one of its wings might flap for it to try to get up from the dirt and fly. But it did not, could not, fly. It was just the wind that blew on it to make it look like it might. And this bird, not like the witch in these woods who did not die when the boys took a rock to the side of her witch head, it was dead. The boy of the two who was not named John, who was called by the name of Jim, and on some days too he would turn if you called him Tom or Bob—he knew who you meant when he heard such dull sounds that all three of these boy names make—he reached down and took up this bird with and in his small Jim boy hand. He held it then like this, with the wind that still blew through it, then took it back to be in the house—Bird, you might have heard him say to it, come with us to our house, he might have said—where he pulled off its bird head with a twist and a tug, then plucked at its wings, then stuck it, this bird, on a stick, and like this, no, he did not hold it to a flame to cook it, no, but it’s true, they did—Jim and John—eat the parts of this bird that were left. No one made a sound in or with his boy mouth, the boys, like this, they did not say a word as they ate. In these woods, if you cupped a hand round your ear, to hear a boy be called by name: there was not a sound for you to hear be made: not wind in or through the trees, not trees, no, not the leaves on the trees, or the birds that pecked at the wood of the trees, to get at those things that can’t be heard or seen, though you feel, you know, they are there.
Peter Markus is the author of several books of fiction, among them the novel Bob, or Man on Boat as well as We Make Mud, Good, Brother, and The Fish and the Not Fish. His short fiction has appeared in such print magazines as Iowa Review, Chicago Review, Black Warrior Review, Notre Dame Review, Fairy Tale Review, and online at BOMB, The Collagist, and Big Other. His most recent book is a work of non-fiction, Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry in Detroit Public Schools.