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As If a Bird Flew By Me

A Novel

Sara Greenslit

Publication Year: 2011

“The world is full of continuous conversations: Now is surrounded by Past, and both are encircled by Forever.” So states an unnamed narrator in Sara Greenslit’s new novel As if a Bird Flew by Me.
Celia lives in the contemporary Midwest. Ann is an accused witch, executed during the Salem witch trials. Two women separated by time and place, yet yoked by heritage and history. Set in three time periods, stories within stories unfold, and Greenslit’s language seamlessly weaves Celia’s modern life with the historical record of Ann’s demise alongside dazzling renderings of animal life. Greenslit’s hybrid of fiction and nonfiction occupies that rarest of airs: it is a book that illuminates, line by line and page by page, how it should be read.



Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Cover Page

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p. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-2

The sky is a trampoline, a gasp, a dream. It’s here and there and in between. It’s my life and yours. It’s particle and wave. It’s thick, it’s thin. It’s breath and exhale, it’s countless lungs filling. It’s molecule and pollution, warmth and chill. Falling fully splendored...

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The Cellist

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pp. 3-6

As if the songs had tarried in her hands, notes held in her ten-reach an octave, cannot claim surety in finger position or fluid-ity of the bow. But the vibrato, the sure slide into a harmonic, strings glide into tune, the overlapping vibration clearing into illary, so that music latches onto erythrocytes, hemoglobin and ...

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Celia Cracks Open a Door

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pp. 7-10

She begins to think of herself as Celia, a newness to wear, to in-And so she begins to talk about herself in third person: “This is Celia calling, leaving a message… Celia will see you later.”“She called herself Celia…” As if by speaking in this point of view now, she is preparing herself to gently accept that she will ...

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Migrations: Close Range

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pp. 11-12

Almost a mirage: 8:30 a.m., Highway 13, north, near Lake Superior, a wolf in the road, stopped. He or she was thin and young and not nearly afraid enough of people and what cars do to animals standing in the street. It lifted its huge floppy feet into the wet grass and stared...

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Our Histories (Are Blurring)

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pp. 13-18

The air is thick with the dead. Outside, a lamppost casts a cor-ridor of light into a winter night. Alive, we shine in that beam, oblivious of what waits just beyond it, its inhabitants sliding Time as a variable, as a line, a continuum, a circle, a start and stop, fast-forward, relative, keepsake, period, waste, matter of, ...

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What Is Known, As It Is Written

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pp. 19-22

Celia starts to dig around letters, books. She ferrets out prob-able timelines, truths and rumors. She likes a good list. This is 1682: Pudeator died, leaving to Ann two parcels of land, two houses, and 1,300 She types up the list, prints it, and puts it in her purse, so that the history can leach a little into the atmosphere, into the fabric ...

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pp. 23-24

There is no room for dreaming here. Here blackbirds fill the summer with flashing and open wings, spread tails. Above them, planes. Around them, the occasional boater, the tractor in the hay field, cars along the causeway. But they don’t mind. They see past that, focus on what’s theirs...

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Something to Fill in Our Hours

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pp. 25-26

Amidst this, the swirl, the cycle of seasons, of days, the insis-tence of forward, the pull towards the future—there’s a gap, a pause, a rift in the cement, the hemline, a crack in the plaster. I was never much in this world. How easy it is to forget you have ...

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Give Me a Broom

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pp. 27-28

WS Nevins, 19th century historian: the concept that witches fly that ann pudeatar: tould har that she flu by aman in the neight I this deponant was coming along salim strete btween ann pudeat-ers hous and Captin higison hous. it being in the evening: and I which I sopposed to be ann Pudeatar. and in a moment of time she ...

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Migrations: Of Locks and Dams

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pp. 29-30

In 1994-1995, a manatee became the most well-traveled of his species: Chessie, named after the Chesapeake Bay, swam from Florida all the way up the east coast, past the Statue of Liberty, to Rhode Island. By those in charge of such matters, his behavior was deemed in...

Animal and Verb: Celia’s Other Lists

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pp. 31-34

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Of Radios and People

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pp. 35-36

The rhythm of the commute, jazz on the car radio, a regular snare beat—the same tempo as the gait of the girl crossing at the light, matched to the hazards of the stalled Mercedes in the turn lane, to the exact downbeat...

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Later Generations

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pp. 37-40

Celia can’t help but notice how many Johns fill her family tree. I could draw a filial line back to 1692, but she starts with the closer relatives—my uncle, his son /my cousin, my cousin’s son, my grand-great-great-great-grandfather

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A Sound You Want to Fall Into

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pp. 41-44

Now the cello was purely hers. No teacher, all of her sheet music packed in an attic box. She had just her search for what the cello wanted, an exploration of what it could do if asked. She craved Bach, her worn and oversized copy of his six cello suites, her teacher’s finger notations on the page. But for now she lets the box rest in the attic....

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An Old Story

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pp. 45-46

It is an old story. Wolf and deer, a chase. Take this image, the motion, the surprise of the wolf-chased deer, they cross the road/yard/field in a breath, a held breath— a grey and red blurring, slowed in memory— Catch the eye of the wolf—white...

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Celia Dreams of Ann

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pp. 47-48

One of my first memories: my mother wiping her hands on her apron, calling from the back door, the sun low, so I had to squint to see her. I was eight and liked the chase. I knew once you had them, they quit flailing and let you carry them around the yard like dolls. I liked, too, how they became smaller, my hands in their feathers, their taut ...

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pp. 49-52

When Celia was a child, she had this heavy, square and glossy book about the countries of the world. Throughout the book, layers of vellum covered pictures of the continents. Lifting layer by layer, you could see who grew wheat, who mined coal, who had boreal or rain forests, who had the most cities with the largest populations. She wonders...

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Crow Out the Cellist’s Window

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pp. 53-54

All autumn, the dead crow hung upside down by one foot, through windstorm and rain, caught by mere fate of branch and ankle, to swing out of reach, macabre, desiccating— We got used to it being there after awhile, so it was a surprise— like the surprise of first seeing...

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Migrations: A Ferocity and Beauty You Can Almost Touch

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pp. 55-56

...caught by a fishing boat off California. A great white is the holy record of her predecessor (198 vs. 16 days). In her time in the tank, she grew from five feet, weighing 62 pounds, to six feet, she still projected that movie-terror/awe of her larger cohorts two of her tank-mates, soupfin sharks, her aggression escalating ...

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It’s in the Vowels

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pp. 57-58

...wardly, to the maze of sulci and gyri of the brain, through the your eyes while listening to the lead singer holding the vowels in his throat as he counterpoints the guitar, there’s a pinprick that’s actually gargantuan, that’ll let you in, to fall and fall, and traversing internally as well as out to the end of space, music ...

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Celia Listens for a Blackbird

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pp. 59-60

I don’t believe it was a matter of how much we loved the earth or not. Or how much we loved God. Or why I became a blackbird, and others—hare, bear, frog, flower, heart in another’s body. Or plain ghost. It wasn’t a matter...

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Reversal, No Fortune

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pp. 61-62

...“Mr. Sewall S’r I thought good to returne you the Names of severall psons that were Condemned & Executed that not any person or rela-tions appeared in the behalf of for the takeing of the Attainder or for other Expences.” All but six: Bridget Bishop, Wilmot Redd, to reclaim Ann’s property, confiscated by the Special Court of ...

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Questions from the Spoken to the Unspoken World

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pp. 63-64

...the edge of your dog’s soft, brown ear— Yet, sometimes, there is a scent on the wind that you can’t quite place, that triggers texture, right? I’m oblivious to most of the world’s turning gears. What I know is that the rosehips are burnishing like tiny persimmons, that the geese have begun to line up in their first ...

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Migrations: One Very Large, Unexpected Guest

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pp. 65-66

If you were a humpback whale, what would be your reasons for entering San Francisco Bay? Two times, in 1985 and 1990. Maybe one should wonder why one Humphrey (not his real name) chose not to enter the bay on the other years. He was on his way from Mexico to Alaska...

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Ergot or Not

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pp. 67-68

From the same substance you can concoct LSD and you can treat the meanest species of headaches. The ergot alkaloids are a funny family. You can also, if you eat food contaminated by ergot, end up with this resumé: “violent muscle spasms, vomiting, delusions, hallucinations, crawling sensations...

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Ancestor, Stranger, Here = Then

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pp. 69-72

In a house’s history, if you think about all the layers of individuals who have lived there, it is not hard to imagine a few people day replayed, a glitch in a record? Or do they ride linear time And what would I, Celia, have to say to her, Ann, really? Me, a child of gasoline’s rule, of fruit in winter, women lovers, no livestock? My ...

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Notes Towards A

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pp. 73-76

An entire forest of longing, an entire coast You have cells sloughing off you everyday, an eyelash in your tea, long tendrils of hair down the bathtub drain No, close your eyes. It’s better to keep out the blurring and the racing, the fear of losing, of loss, of lost. The tide is high and it’s roaring. I am watching the minutes and they are not a speeding train. My heart elongates flat and thin as a...

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Celia Considers Her Options

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pp. 77-78

Celia considers a road trip: She still carries the list of historical dates in her purse. A map of 1692 Salem (by WP Upham, 1866) hangs on her office wall (an O marks Pudeator’s house). She thinks of driving to Massachusetts, to stand in the shade of trees, to stare at a different town than the one she’s invented. And why...

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Migrations: The Temptation of the Transoceanic

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pp. 79-80

The longest known migration of any animal? It’s the artic tern, a round trip of 20,000 miles per year, from the northern polar ice cap, to the southern one, and back. One arctic tern, three months after it fledged, flew from the Farne Islands off the British...

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We All Stem from the Fragments of Others

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pp. 81-98

...You cannot blame her for the verbs and nouns that spilled from others’ mouths. They weren’t invited, those phrases—the unexpected turn, levity evaporated. Spillage unleashed. Look what damage you’ve done...

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Ann Speaks

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pp. 99-100

I should be gathering sunlight. Skin lit with morning. Strands of hair falling to my cheek, tucked behind the ear. An unbroken horizon over the forest, past that, the sea, the sea, then England. I have an equally damp heart as before, feet on a different soil. So give me sun. My mouth is open, my hands cold. My throat’s exposed. I hear coyote ...

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What’s Lost, What’s Found

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pp. 101-102

Like clothes on the floor, the scatterings of what’s lost and what’s found: A winged maple seed, a snapped off second hand, cherry blossomed sidewalks, step by step by step. The sun getting hotter by the minute. Hop once, throw the stone, hop over, stone now warm in your palm, turn back, still balanced on one....

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At the Precipice of the Held Note

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pp. 103-104

From the start, you have to lean in to listen—plucked strings open against and through the silence, three notes, then three more. Largo, a somnolent near-shuffle phrasing: a half note, followed by two quarters—in harmonics. It’s almost out the range of your hearing, the..

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Migrations: #7804

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pp. 105-106

Wolf 7804: two year-old, 60 pound female radio-collared, wanderer, disperser, in search of a mate: Six months, a 2,593 mile loop (301 mile radius) from Minnesota into Wisconsin, 5...

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It’s Not Clear If It’s a Rift or a Rising

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pp. 107-114

What Celia imagines most about the cellist is the smell of her skin, a combination of faint coffee beans, the crisp pages of a new notebook. The almost invisible moisture that seeps into her pores during a walk, her hair wet with mist. No, maybe it’s more flour and a touch of...

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The World Within

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pp. 115-116

Stop, wait. Listen to the shift of the tree limbs against each other, the scuttling of insect legs, the quiet, heliotropic turnings of flowers. A song comes through the sternum, the world within, the word without. Four strings, a bow. The sounds...

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That Blue in the Periphery

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pp. 117-118

When she wakes, the first thing she hears is the wind in the trees. If the wind is down, then the waves, against the red rocks of the shoreline. It is the utter lack of human racket that strikes her, while she is still sleepy, the absence of traffic, voices, car doors, front doors, or dogs (...

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pp. 119-120

The humble Petition of Ann Poodeater unto the honoured Judge and Bench now Setting in Judicature in Salem humbly Sheweth: That Wheras your Poor and humble Petitioner being condemned to die and knowing in my own conscience as I shall shortly answer it before the great God of heaven who is the searcher & knower of all hearts: That the Evidence of Jno Best Sen’r and Jno Best Jun’r and Sam’ll Pickworth w’ch was given in...

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Blackbird Sky

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pp. 121-124

I can barely tell apart the birds from leaves in my neighbor’s yard, yet thousands of blackbirds just settled there, disappearing into the foliage. The dusk sky crowds low rain clouds together, where shades of grey push and blur against each other. Looking at the tops of my neighbor’s maples, I see silhouettes of individual birds if I look carefully...


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pp. 125-144

E-ISBN-13: 9781573668286
E-ISBN-10: 1573668281
Print-ISBN-13: 9781573661645
Print-ISBN-10: 1573661643

Page Count: 142
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1st ed.