by Susan Smith Nash


Saw antelope today and a wild songbird smashed on the front headlight of a rented Impala. "Aren't you going to clean it off? I asked. The day after Memorial Day and it seemed especially grisly. "I am not touching it." That's what he said.

Well. Speechless.

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The antelope were in a field adjacent to a big, new wind farm they're putting in just south of Elk City, Texas. They were not actually smashed onto the front headlight of a rented Impala, although the text message made it seem that way. Antelope Meets Impala. Boy Meets Girl.

The little bird did really hit the car. It was stuck in the headlamp, its little beak half open. "I didn't do it on purpose," said the guy who had rented the car. He was eating a softserve ice cream. An image of him zooming from one side of the road to the other, just trying to hit a bird flashed into my mind. I wonder how many squirrels he had run down in his life. Probably not too many. He does not own a car, he says. He just rents them.

It was very sad. I could not help but think of the two birds that kept chirping me as I ran laps on the little asphalt track in the back of the Window on the Plains Museum, located on the south edge of town off Highway 287, the main throughfare linking Denver and Fort Worth via Amarillo. The grassy area was an outdoor exhibit for old farm implements and oil and gas equipment. I think that the birds must have had a nest in the prairie grass because every time I got near, they started flying toward me and squawking so loudly I could hear it through my iPod earbuds.

You'd think he'd at least clean the bird's body and feathers out. Dignity. What ever happened to that? Who drives around with an animal or bird carcass like a hood ornament???

"It is going to start to smell," I pointed out. If you ran over a dog, would you just keep it stuck to your fender?

The famous WWII photograph of the desiccated head of a soldier who died fighting Rommel in North Africa went through my mind. It was still in the tank where he died. I always hated that photograph. It seemed to me that it stripped the poor man of his dignity. You can't just let their bodies hang out there in public. What was the name of the poor woman who drowned in New Orleans, whose body lay on the street for days? What have we come to if we do not treat our dead (even animals) with loving kindness?

I looked at him as he ate his ice cream, and I realized that my way of thinking was utterly alien to him.

"Yeah, Avian flu. I don't blame you," I said. What else was there to say?


The Elk City cemetery had clearly been visited on Memorial Day. Flowers, ribbons, sprays, wreaths were there in abundance. The air still smelled a bit of rain and mud from the storms that had passed through a few days before. I noticed that not all headstones shared in such bounty. People die, relatives move away, and it's hard to find time to go and pay one's respects. My grandmother is buried in the Ardmore, Oklahoma cemetery just south of the Arbuckle Mountains on the highway to Lake Murray. I believe it is called the Rose Hill cemetery. I need to go and pay my respects soon. This year, it will be forty years since she passed away. I still remember that her birthday was in June. She was from Texas. Her last name was McLean, the same name as a town just east of here. Her mother's last name was Potter. Potter County is the county just west of here. The coincidences make me mindful of my grandmother whenever I'm in the Texas Panhandle. The power of naming is hard to overstate.

My grandmother used to tell me I was lucky I had a round face because I would not have wrinkles.

Why do we pay respects to the dead? It's hard to say. I think that on some level, we believe that the dead are still with us. Of course, they area in the sense that they influence mental activity. The images in our brains could, in theory, be recorded, captured, and then projected like some sort of holograph into the world. And, we remember them.

Will the spirits of the dead come back to haunt us if we do not treat them well? I guess it depends on how they died. If it's a suicide, the survivors feel helpless and angry. In a certain way, the spirits of the living haunt the legacy of the dead, since the fact of suicide seems to cloud everything else. I was perusing the Norton Anthology of Poetry this afternoon and skimming through the biographical sketches. It was amazing how many poets were listed as having committed suicide. That's a heck of a thing, isn't it - you get 50 words or perhaps 75, if you're a big deal. If you committed suicide, 20 of the words could be dedicated to describing your ignominious end. Dismal! Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Mew, John Berryman, Anne Sexton - these were just a few.

Why do we pay respects to the dead? Just in case their spirits to walk the earth, you might as well as get them on your side. You might need them to go junk yard dog on the people who seek to harm you. What that means in practical terms is that I need to learn how to think on my feet.

Then I can run or fly away.

It is better than being turned into a hood ornament.