erin kiernan

Hanged at Dawn



I cried when I graduated middle school. I cried when I graduated high school. I’ll definitely cry when I graduate college. Every milestone disguises itself as the end.

But I know I’m ready to graduate college. I’ve done my growing here and I’ve grown too much to stay. I can grieve for every era but must remember beautiful things lay before and after it. I suggest you savor each step and then let it go when it’s time.

I’ve had an aversion to cut flowers most of my life. I received my first bouquet in kindergarten. A tiny one, a trainer. There’s a polaroid of me squeezed into a sequined and feathered leotard, holding the celebratory ballet bouquet, grimacing. Why are they making me hold these severed flower heads? I thought I danced well.

Cut flowers inevitably and quickly die, even if kept in water. Even if kept in water mixed with flower food or other substances. I’ve heard people use sugar, vodka, aspirin—anything to prolong the process. Why would anyone ever give them to someone they love? It’s an ugly death and surefire abandonment.

I’ve heard that at best, you can keep your cut flowers “alive” for two weeks. I wouldn’t know. At one point in my flower-receiving career, I started leaving the bundles on the counter downstairs, hoping they’d be adopted by some other family member. Then I’d rid my mind of them. If they found a new temporary home in one of my mother’s vases, I wouldn’t look at them until they were gone.

As a young teenager I opened one of my mother’s art books and found a small dried purple flower inside. I asked her if she knew it was there and she said she must have put it in there to dry years ago. It’s called pressing flowers, just one of several ways one can dry flowers.

This greatly appealed to me. Beat the flowers to the punch. Kill them first, pull the plug. No need for botox, hip replacements, transplants—the point was to appreciate them in their death, not in life.

When I was in high school, someone gave me a dozen red roses for Valentine’s Day. I thanked him, and as soon as he left, I tied a rubber band around the stems of the roses and hung them upside down from the top of my window frame. This way, their death would be controlled. When you dry roses upside down, they work with gravity and remain plump and shapely despite their wrinkles. I was executioner and undertaker.

A few weeks ago, a man at my office received an enormous bouquet of bright flowers and I was tasked with delivering them to his desk. I scooped up the delivery with difficulty, and on my way to his office, the tallest flowers rested right below my nose. I smelt honey and perfume and nature and wanted to cry for all their cousins that I let rot without so much as a sniff. All because I knew I’d one day be without them.

The Crow

Erin Kiernan


I admit I’m decently averse to travel. It took a great deal of thought and preparation for me to go to school in New York, which is only two and a half hours from my house. Now, with graduation looming, geography is constantly on my mind. I should go somewhere cool, but I don’t want to. But I should. I feel like the crow in my story. And the young woman.

Her favorite bird was the crow. There was one she liked to think of as her friend living in one of the high trees outside the church. He came out infrequently, only on the days during which he felt needed. He could sense the cool overcast days before they happened (because his small bones would ache) and knew he must show the world his face. He thought of himself as a Halloween decoration of sorts.

His eyesight was sharp, his brain quick, and on those spooky days he would rise at eight thirty and fly the couple dozen yards from his nest to the church bell tower. Perched on the tower, he waited 29 and three quarter minutes to begin his flight back across the church lawn to the nest. And every half hour until sundown, he flew back and forth between the bell tower and nest, pairing each flight with a string of caws, diverging from his straight path only to occasionally scoop up hovering insects. When perched on the tree, he could see the clock on the bell tower. When perched on the tower, he could hear the hourly chime. Thus, his flights were never late. He was a punctual crow.

On overcast Sundays, he saw her, a young woman with red hair, as she walked into the church for the eleven o’clock mass. She was always right on time, right on the hour, so she would catch him for his eleven o’clock flight. She would look up at him lovingly, a look he was not familiar with. No one looks at crows, let alone looks at them lovingly.

He felt important and handsome when she looked at him, so on overcast Sundays he would spread his wings wider and caw a bit louder and look down at her in return. He thought he loved her, so he started to come out more frequently—not just on overcast days, but on sunny days too—with the hope that she’d be there and look at him.

Every Sunday for four years she saw him and he saw her. Just a simple shared glance, but it was enough for the crow.

One Sunday in late May, he did not see her during his flight. It was five past eleven, and still nothing. No sign of the red haired young woman. At ten past, he became very anxious, so he did something he hadn’t done since he was a fledgling: he alighted on the ground. Because it was May and so very lovely outside, the church door was ajar. He crept inside to look for her. He walked up and down the aisles, glancing at every pew, sharing blank looks with churchgoers. His black beady eyes met with empty white eyes devoid of love or any feeling at all.

He flew up to the loft and perched on the organ, staring at the organist. The organist blinked twice, cowered, and played his fugue. The choir didn’t even see the crow.

The crow flew to the altar and landed on the lectern. He watched the congregation. The congregation looked down. So the crow hopped to the floor and walked down the middle aisle to the door.

He flew to the top of the bell tower and looked around. He could see the whole campus, but he saw no red.

The crow thought perhaps the young woman was sick. So the next Sunday, he resumed his regular flight pattern, hoping he would see her. He didn’t. He didn’t the next Sunday either. Or, the following Sunday.

Without her loving look, the crow saw no reason to fly. He began to spend days at a time in his cramped little nest, only creeping out for a morsel of food—perhaps a drowsy caterpillar on a nearby branch. At night the crow would whimper for the young woman and small tears would dimple his oily feathers.

Months went by and the crow aged rapidly. His feathers began to fall out and lost their sheen. He was thin and could hardly tiptoe out of his nest, let alone fly. He hated his life and the bitter world that ignored him day after day.

One day, he gathered his strength and stood up in his nest. His bones cracked and feathers fell as he opened his tiny beak to call out to the young woman, wherever she was. But his lungs were weak, his throat shriveled, and out came a caw of death, of pain, stagnation. Shrill, dry sobs, over and over, into a void.

But finally someone heard him. The sacristan rushed out of the church and looked up at the nest. The crow keeled over with exhaustion and fell to the ground. Satisfied, the sacristan walked back inside.

The crow thought he was dead and he was rather disappointed in the afterlife. Cold, hard, lonely, like the Earth. But what could he do? He lay there overnight.

In the morning, he saw the young woman standing over him with a man.

“You,” he croaked.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m back. We’re visiting.”

“Why did you leave me? Have you left the church?”

“No,” she laughed. “I graduated.”

“I waited for you for years.”

“A year,” she said.


“You should have followed me.”


“Why do you think you have wings? So you can fly across the same patch of lawn half hour after half hour?”