Sean Lovelace ~ Birds of the Americas: The American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Notes: Most peo­ple do not know how to tell the dif­fer­ence between the male and female robin. The female has a black head. Think of some­thing so black your foot might be sucked into its void, like oil or oily sand or sludge or cer­tain lost oppor­tu­ni­ties; think of wak­ing (again) at night in an inky and sweaty murk, mur­murs of empti­ness, an echo of con­fused noth­ing­ness, and reflect­ing on your check­ing account bal­ance and your lone­li­ness and a door slam­ming, a fresh­ly torn fin­ger­nail, a dry­wall scar, or the time you ran over the neighbor’s cat while back­ing out the dri­ve­way (dis­tinct image: the neigh­bor sob­bing while lift­ing the cat’s body with a green plas­tic snow shovel)…floating con­fus­ed­ly now with your hand out­stretched to turn on the light, blind in dark­ness, sight­less to the moments fad­ing, a faint odor of laven­der, then smoke, a wall ahead, an unseen and cer­tain wall—bare feet, cold floor, hush. The male head is light gray, or graying.

Eggs: 4–7; pale blue, unmarked.

Nest: Long coarse grass, twigs, paper (toi­let, to-do lists, physi­cian and util­i­ty bills, wine box­es, etc.), and feath­ers, and is smeared with mud and often cush­ioned with pock­et mole­skin note­books, torn Kleenex, or oth­er soft materials.

Robins Often Fly: Into win­dows. Into them­selves, I mean.

Call: Cuk or tuk. Yeep or peep. Pup-pup. Repeated chirrrrrr that can sound like a whis­per, chuck­le, or yawn.

Size and Weight: Imagine you are an adjunct fac­ul­ty at a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege off a high­way over­pass in Kansas (or hell). You are aging and adrift. You are nobody. A haze, a sneeze. A fog of driz­zle and damp paper­work and mist. The words won’t arrive on your nov­el (a noir time-trav­el romance) and you’ve stopped brush­ing your teeth and you feel hol­low as YouTube. You wear New Balances. You jog tri-week­ly, but bad­ly, and often trailed by coun­try dogs and the occa­sion­al sneer­ing kid on a bike. Your run­ning form? Like a lean­ing shuf­fle. Like a falling over. Like a flung hub­cap, dent­ed wob­ble, high­way shoul­der grass. Crickets. You have two-and-a-quar­ter friends. Zero lovers. You share an office that was once a snack machine room with an asth­mat­ic his­to­ri­an (PhD con­cen­tra­tion in Folklore Studies) and a rat­tling water foun­tain. One day (a gauzy Wednesday), the Assistant to the Director of the English Department wants to dis­cuss your stu­dent teach­ing evaluations:

            “…and sev­er­al com­ments about your looks.”

            “My looks?”

            “No, the way you look. Always seri­ous. Or maybe speak, I don’t know. Kids these days, they want charis­ma. You know? They want you to be a pro­fes­sor, right? Performative! Be friend­ly! At least two stu­dents said you don’t smile much.”

            “I do smile. I mean not always. I teach very ear­ly and—”

            “One kid wrote down you have an accent. I don’t hear any accent. Didn’t you use to live in Tennessee?”

            “What does that mean?”

            “Exactly! Right…You know you look tired.”

            “I am tired.”

The Assistant to the Director of English Department clasps his hands togeth­er, almost as if pray­ing. “Right…Look, I’m also tired of all of this, just like you. But these days we’re cus­tomer ser­vice. Student suc­cess, right? They could go to school any­where. They could go to Topeka. I don’t know. Even Nebraska maybe…Or maybe they just go online! What are we going to do then, huh? I mean I’m not teach­ing online.”

With a gri­mace, the Assistant to the Director of English Department hands over your sched­ule, a pink slip of paper as light as a sigh. Composition 102, on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays, from 8–8:50 a.m., from 9–9:50 a.m., from 10–10:50 a.m., from 11–11:50 a.m. And then your brain shim­mers, coughs. And crouch­es. Cackles and cracks open like a geode. Your hands trem­ble. And a heat blush­es through the barbed wiring of your ster­num. And you pick up, weigh in your hand, and fling a sta­pler at the fore­head of the Assistant to the Director of the English Department, a sta­pler heavy and dull, insti­tu­tion­al red and bro­ken-winged and tum­bling on the dust motes of quiv­er­ing air. See it there? End over end. An instant before everything…The American Robin is the size and weight of the stapler.


Sean Lovelace lives in Indiana, where he chairs the English Department at Ball State University. He wrote Fog Gorgeous Stag (Publishing Genius Press), How Some People Like Their Eggs, and oth­er flash fic­tion col­lec­tions. He has won numer­ous nation­al lit­er­ary awards, includ­ing the Rose Metal Press Short Short Prize and the Crazyhorse Prize for Fiction. He helped James Franco actu­al­ly final­ly fin­ish a book. He runs. And often writes about nachos at