Lord God is talking again. He does love to hear himself speak. A graybeard loon, he sits hunched over the kitchen table, his arms sunburned, nose hooked, hair thin and wiry, ranting hoarse-voiced about sinners and socialists. Outside the foggy window Smoke Larks flutter liquid as living shadows to perch atop the woodshed. When they settle the morning sun backlights their black silhouettes like burnt figures on a woodcut.
Ruby shifts the baby girl in her lap and thinks of the birds, how they must be cold of a morning like this. She’s seen twelve this week whole. She counts the birds and invents her own names. She knows people call them by another name, but she calls them Smoke Larks. Swirling in vast flocks in late winter, they look like smoke from a great fire, burnt souls twisting in the wind. Purple-black, dusky, and speckled, the short-tailed birds scatter among the twisted junipers in the backyard, pecking in the dry hay grass.
–William J. Cobb