Hard to Swallow

I first noticed them as they were darting across the road ahead climbing and swooping down as if riding some invisible roller coaster, surfing the waves of the wind their wings spread wide, their movements laughing the cry of carefree glee.  Swallows often dart across the road, sometimes quite near the traffic.  It is not uncommon to see them seem to disappear beneath the front wheel only to burst forth on the other side of the bike climbing, twirling, slipping effortlessly through the air as if to laugh at all that would bind them, all that envy their freedom, any who would dare attempt to grasp their slippery dancing forms.  These two were playing perilously close to the blacktop, almost arrogantly taunting the sixty mile per hour steel and plastic predators of the rural highway.  I gave no care, no concern, for their safety as I knew they had the skills required by their game, but, nonetheless, I cut the throttle as they drew near to give them that extra microsecond to slip past the careening obstacle.  They rose and dove; they spun and slipped sideways low across the asphalt.  I watched them disappear from view, right to left, beneath the front wheel of the dragon.  How beautiful was their dance; how majestic their performance.  I thought they had both made it through until I looked down to see him pinned there, backwards and upside down, against the right engine guard, his feathers brushed by the breeze, his head dangling strangely, bobbing lifelessly on the turbulent wind.  I reached up with my boot and kicked the guard lightly but still he hung, held by the wind and stuffed tightly between the guard and the valve cover.  I tapped it again and he dropped to the pavement, bouncing, rolling, tumbling like so much meaningless feathered dirt, and disappeared from my mirror.

I pondered as I rode away, how small a slice of time separated the beauty and majesty of his effortless flight from the form of his carcass bouncing grotesquely on an unknowing, uncaring wind. How long did it take for his brain to cease; his heart to stop? Did his partner miss his presence?  Did she look back and scream in horror, or did she even know he was gone?  Will small insects out there know tonight that they live only because that swallow is no more?  Will they rejoice?  Will anyone weep?  When it springs from the earth into which the swallow has gone will the flower know that it has sprung from the beauty of that tiny twirling, diving, swooping essence of life and freedom?  And am I so much different than the burst of life that was a transient swallow?

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