A Bird in the Hand


DURING SPRING EQUINOX, it is said, that an egg standing on end, will balance.

It’s been a year since my last attempt at balancing eggs, so I take a few eggs out to the studio. I attempt on the desk, the table, finally on the shag rug. I’m twitchy with anticipation, with wanting it to work. It doesn’t.

Last year, César Chávez Day (March 31) fell on Easter Sunday. A coincidence I only remember because of the internet controversy it ensued. Google’s doodle featured Chávez, while Bing’s featured colored eggs. Conservatives were incensed by the Chávez doodle, yet strangely pleased with the colored eggs. Dyeing eggs is, of course, a Pagan ritual that Christians re-appropriated then later secularized. César Chávez was, of course, a Roman Catholic.

This morning, I attended the Salt Lake City School District’s fifth-grade maturation program at my stepdaughter’s school. My wife and I were two of only a handful of parents there. I attribute it to the school’s Title I status, and the personal luxury Lisa and I have to take time off from work to attend such events, while many parents cannot. At home, we’ve been joking all week about the impending program – trying to make light of an inherently embarrassing situation. “The diagram they show makes your insides look like the face of a cow.” “The face of a cow!?” The things we try to crack…

During the presentation, I’m reminded of a poem I wrote over ten years ago:

            In the Museum of Science, Boston

The incubator eggs pulse in cardboard grass.  They cannot balance, so topple, roll, dance.   One chick begins to beak his way out.  We all know it could be hours.   My husband is invited to dissect a cow’s eye (we are here, celebrating our anniversary); his gloved hand cradles the white, veined bulb.  Startled by the way it fills his palm, I leave; wander through the corridor How Your Life Began, then find myself pulling a detailed plastic baby from a clear plastic vagina, clear plastic birth canal. The woman’s anatomy is a window, her child’s head cocked at an impossible angle.  The chick is out, downy but coated, seeming to sweat.

I’m reminded of the apprehension I felt during the poetry workshop when saying the word husband. I remember being startled at the class’s interpretation that something was awry with the marriage. It was true, of course, and this is how poetry works, of course.

When the school nurse introduced the chromosome section, we are told that XX chromosomes make baby girls and XY chromosomes make baby boys. When the school nurse introduced the anatomy section, we are told that a fertilized egg turns into a baby, and that babies are only made after marriage. There was no mention of how an egg becomes fertilized. Utah law prohibits any discussion of transsexuality, gender-nonconformity, or homosexuality. It also prohibits any discussion of heterosexual intercourse.

The Aztec goddess Coatlicue found a ball of feathers, so she placed it in her waistband, thereby conceiving the world, and ultimately giving birth to the sun. What else would she have done?

The English word bird began as the Old English brid or bridd. Most etymologists agree that consistent mispronunciation and frequent misspelling spurred the word’s evolution.

As a young boy, César Chávez gathered eggs from his family’s coop.

When restructuring a family after separation, it is said that new traditions should be formed, while paying homage to the old. Celebrations at the solstices and equinoxes are relatively new to Kenzie and Lisa, but our family traditions are beginning to solidify. We remember last year, and look forward to the next. On Winter Solstice I spent the day making mole poblano. I toasted chiles: ancho, mulato, chipotle, pasilla. Ground coriander seeds, anise, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. Toasted pepitas, peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds, and raisins. Roasted tomatoes and tomatillos. Seasoned with garlic, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and seemingly dozens of other ingredients. Finally, I melted in a single disc of Mexican chocolate, chocolate para mesa, and served the dish over boiled chicken and boiled potatoes. The meal was in reverence of the season, in reverence of nuts and seeds, dried fruits and peppers, and, of course, a celebration of heat, the return of the sun.

The Friday before Winter Solstice, in a startling decree, Judge Robert Shelby deemed Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. By Monday morning, before 8:00 AM, Lisa and I were in line for our marriage license. As we stood and waited with hundreds of other Utah couples, we couldn’t help scoff and speculate, “Who would have thought Utah would be the 18th state?! We thought we’d be 48, maybe even 50.” And theorize, “Utah will be the tipping point,” we said, “Other states will follow. What else can they do?” Finally, after over eight hours standing in line, we were married in a relatively quiet corner of the Salt Lake County Courthouse. As predicted, Utah Governor, Gary Herbert, along with other theocrats, worked to stay further marriages and strip those that had occurred of validity. Still, Lisa and I smile slyly when we refer to each other as wife. All hetero-normative problems aside, the language still feels like a personal protest. What I remember most about the event is that it was an unseasonably warm day, snow melted in slushy mounds; the sound of running water coursed through the desert city.

According to Aztec mythology, we are now living under the fifth and final sun.

Last week, in a quiet celebration of approaching spring, I took a plastic container of leftover mole from the freezer. Once thawed, I warmed the mole on the stove, dredged tortillas in it, and then wrapped them around pieces of boiled egg. I topped the deep red enchiladas with guacamole and sour cream in sloppy rendition of the Mexican flag.

During dinner Kenzie announced that she had won 2nd place in the Salt Lake City School District’s César Chávez Contest. The children were given a short history of Chávez’s United Farm Workers movement and told that in remembrance of his struggle, a section of 500 South in Salt Lake City was renamed César Chávez Boulevard. They were asked to create art pieces based upon the prompt, “Who, in your life, do you believe deserves to have a street named after them?” Kenzie chose me. Her piece was a drawing of a street sign, Holly Ave., but instead of the standard green and white palette, the text was rainbow. “Because you’re an LGBTQ advocate and a really good poet,” she explained. I was humbled, and honored, and filled with the strange, inexplicable guilt of parenthood. I’m not, I wanted to say, the revolutionary, you think I am. I’ve spent most of my adult life closeted. At the awards ceremony, I notice they’ve misspelled McKenzie’s middle name, Sky, instead of Skye.

The same-sex marriage political predictions made on our wedding day have come true – at least partially. Oklahoma soon followed, then Virginia, Texas, and last week Michigan; however, most states also granted immediate appeals and so performed no marriages. Partial decisions have been handed down in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. The Utah decision will be considered next by the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver this April. I’m not certain of the outcome, nobody is. Still, it does feel, as they say, the balance has been tipped.

In my head I’ve cataloged all the vague misinformation from the maturation program. Lisa and I will review for Kenzie, among other things, her origin story. How she was wanted and planned for. How her primary parents were never married. How Lisa transported the donor’s sperm; how she kept it warm. And we will add, because Kenzie loves to hear this story, in all its iterations, that Lisa jokingly named the forming embryo Peregrine. Baby Peregrine Skye.

César Chávez’s rally flag was emblazoned with the Aztec eagle. Huelga. Peregrine. Brid.

At home, I try again with the balancing. At the last moment, the egg topples westward – o my, glorious sun.

Cesar Chavez memorial, image by flickr user Cobalt123, published under creative commons

Cesar Chavez memorial, image by flickr user Cobalt123, published under creative commons

About Holly Simonsen

Holly Simonsen lives and works in her native Utah landscape. Primarily, her work explores the relationship between language and ecologically disrupted environments. She earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her recent work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cutbank, Ecotone, NANO-Fiction, and elsewhere. Her manuscript, S AL T F LA T, was a finalist for the 2012 Yale Younger Poets Prize, among others. She was a recent fellow at the Vermont Studio Center and at the Djerassi Resident Artists’ Program.
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