The BOOKPRESS September 1998

The Green Bird in the Basement

Norman Friedman

we don't know how it got there,
for even if the basement windows
were open, they're wholly screened,
so it must have been a one-time
fluke when we opened the back door
and then the basement door just
beyond the small entryway between,
but it still looks pretty unlikely
for this bird, a fair-sized parakeet,
to have gotten down there at all,
mewling and moulting, all holed up
among the basement ceiling beams
where we could do little to help,
unfamiliar with such strangeness
at the bottom of our own damn house,
for fear of being bitten or infected
except perhaps to call the ASPCA
and ask them to come and rescue it-
and us, of course-from this impasse,
but they can't come till tomorrow,
it being too late, it seems, tonight
for them to do anything, despite
the fact that our visitor projects
all the warning signs of not being able
to make it through the night,
drooping and whimpering softly,
and avoiding us among the beams
who are as fearful of chasing him
as he is of our good intentions,
we are not used to one another
like this,

    although I've seen them
screeching up among the tall trees
along the street as I jog past,
wondering whether this is natural
or whether they're children's pets
escaped from thin domestic bounds
either way an exotic intrusion
among the usual Flushing sparrows,
crows, pigeons, doves, grackles,
and robins, although we did have
a pair of woodpeckers this spring
at our birdfeeder, red tufted heads
and speckled bodies, and a scarlet
tanager couple, not to leave out
those geese and ducks in the pond
in the park, and that strange dark
whatsit with the long curved neck
that swims with its body under water,
which only goes to show how content
I am when they know their place
and where they belong, but how can
I relish them dying in my house?
how have I become responsible for something
that's not mine but somehow
I have to take care of and which
doesn't even work out in the end?

I had an uneasy sleep that night
speckled with bright and restless
dreams of strange countries and
unfamiliar songs and prophecies
we found him cold on the concrete
floor the next morning, neglected,
fallen from his perch in a swoon,
and the place was starting to smell
so we had to clean it all up and
dispose of him in a black plastic bag
like they do lately with fallen soldiers
and the victims of fire and flood
feeling regret that it had to come
to this and guilty that I couldn't help
and resentment at being handed this
late assignment in the first place
and-well-now that you ask, I'll
tell you, a missed opportunity
a chance to cross the boundary
and grow feathers and beak for
a change, a chance to let revulsion
drop and touch the damn thing, take
some kind of care of it, not knowing
if we could have done anything to
save him,

or maybe he just came
to us looking for a safe place
to die away from the sharp-toothed
squirrels, and wanting a decent burial
with appropriate prayers and songs
for the passing of such melodious
life from the world, from my life,
who penetrated domestic walls somehow
to bring us news of what's really
going on out there, messages from
high high up among the tall trees
along these ordinary Flushing streets
of this great round heart beating
beneath the rectangles of our lives
the squares of our days singing us
to turn and return in curves to the
spirals of our dying and kiss
the rod that chastises, for we die,
as he died, reminding us of what
transpires underneath our houses
beneath the cheerful smells of
breakfast in the morning, the voice
of time and dreams we all ignore
and from which no one can escape

        -Norman Friedman
Norman Friedman is a retired English professor and a psychotherapist. He is currently seeking a publisher for his third volume of poetry, Revelation to See My Face.
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