Monday, November 28, 2011

#11: "Nomen oblitum / Forgotten Name" by Jessica Handler

~This piece previously appeared in New South, 2011

My habit is to watch for small things. In gentle green grass I spy a single earth-caught feather, arced and crenellated, its knife-edge up. On inspection I see it’s a contour feather, and three inches longer than my hand. The leading edge is rippled and split from use.
A tool, lost, discarded, this single feather, ex-crow. One puzzle-piece of a carapace, densely black. Collectively: a murder of crows. Raven made the world says the Haida legend, but I am no northwest Indian, I have no claim to what some people self-consciously call “first nation.” I am southeastern, urban, and white, third-generation American. My taxonomy is built of flights not my own, but the ground on which I have been placed. In my hand now, this single feather from a crow’s right wing. My own non-hollow, flightless bones are right-dominant; do I feel the sympathetic pluck and plummet here on my own right wing?
This feather, pick it up – lice, vermin silenced by flight, return. This feather pocketed, earth-placed by a window, my own closest place to flight.  


I was a teaching fellow at a writers’ workshop. Every day I walked the serene, rural campus and reveled in the setting. One of my delights in getting away to a workshop is the luxury of time to experience the world around me. In this case, that world included a lone feather. ~ Jessica Handler


Jessica Handler’s first book, Invisible Sisters: A Memoir (Public Affairs, 2009) has been named by the Georgia Center for the Book as one of the “Twenty Five Books All Georgians Should Read,” and is one of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Eight Great Southern Books in 2009.” Atlanta Magazine called it the “Best Memoir of 2009.” Her nonfiction has appeared widely, including on NPR (WABE-FM), in Tin House,, Newsweek, The Washington Post, More Magazine, Southern Arts Journal, and Ars Medica. She has received a 2011 writers residency at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut, a 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowship from The Writer’s Center in Washington, D.C., the 2009 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, and a special mention for a 2008 Pushcart Prize. Her website is

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