it’s spring and poetry month and so a poem about/from my parrot

This is Desirée who came to live with me 18 years ago. She is a Green-Naped Rainbow Lorikeet, Trichoglossus haematodus, a species of Australasian parrot no bigger than a crow. Eighteen years is a long time for this particular kind of parrot to live. The larger a parrot, and therefore its brain, the longer her life span.  Desi’s is about twenty years. I have been fortunate to live with four birds of this species, all of them rescues, since 1986.

I’ve written two chapbooks of Desirée poems, still enchanted by her, amazed at her accomplishments, particularities, biology and personality. (Can a bird have a ‘person’ ality, I wonder.) She does. She’s funny, gorgeous, affectionate and at times, destructive with that sharp beak. She also uses it to brush up against my cheek and to kiss me on the lips each morning.

those zygodactyl feet

your toes and claws
two facing forward on each foot, two back
my gut flutters to realize that as hatchling
you were like other baby birds
how in becoming parrot your outer digits
rotated to the back
and your ankle! turning backwards
when you walk
that sweet scaly footskin
pearlgray as a lady’s gloves
and the little metatarsal pads
cushioning the tiny bones of your feet
oh, my heart
your pigeon-toed walk!

The next poem follows Desirée the time she escaped from my screened porch north of Sharbot Lake. It was August. She was two years old, and had never really experienced the outdoors. In the next twenty-four hours she, who had never flown farther than from cage to table, flew over 40 kilometres across the sparsely inhabited Canadian Shield, coming to rest at a resort in Westport, sliding into the punchbowl at a Teacher’s Alumni Barbecue. She is a fruit eater and nectar sipper in the wild environment of her origins, depending on sugar for nourishment, so, as she would not have eaten or had anything nourishing to drink for 24 hours, she’d headed for what looked like juice.

This poem tracks her through the biology of her eyes, how each part of them functioned as she flew across tree, rock and lake, to land at the resort..

eye parts/ a shine of blue

she chews through
the gazebo screen
new use for eye
how far to green
what is this
constantly changing non seeable
between here and there
a resistance that
supports the moving wing

1. tectonics

a sclerotic ring of bony plates
encircles the cornea
holds her eye rigid
but allows angle adjustment
tilt down to confusing variety
of hard edge shape, defined curve
straight line
tilt up to formless blue
amorphous whites
the security of height

2. view

her eyes are one thirtieth
of her body weight
should we have eyes as large
they’d look like soup plates
on either side of our head
two foveas for each eye
allow simultaneous sharpness
ahead and to the side
instinctive direction
toward green
pull of east, of south
to absence of human creature
from treetop to treetop
over flatshape blueshine
pull of joy
of life

3. lens

the pupil seems dark
at the centre of the eye
an oval transparent lozenge
lets light in to her retina
zonular fibres attach ciliary muscles
that reshape the lens
there can be no grey–
she sees or she does not see
nightfall
black in black on black
scratchings, rustlings in her tree
claw over claw her panicked crashings
into things she can not see
at night the hairlike muscles
let her down
where is the towel she sleeps in

4. cornea

a curved lens
her cornea takes in light
bends and directs it
vitamin A filters out harmful rays
at death the cornea will collapse
this strong thin protector
as insubstantial as water
dawn wakes her
she has never before known
this slow waxing of brightness
its brilliance dazzles
she melts into morning as it breaks
til light persuades her into flight
but where are her people

5. photoreceptors

on a smooth curved retina
rods interpret light
cones read colour
neuron and blood vessels nourish
many more photoreceptors than in humans
ultraviolet-sensitive cones
in tetrachromatic eyes
pick up radio waves, microwaves, infrared light
every surface distracts
where in this pattern upon pattern
colour upon colour does a bird find food
so many airmiles in this heat,
she falters, stops more often
fears escalate as random sputterings
of fluorescence turn phosphorescent and she’s tired–
when she falls into it, the shine of blue
is water

6. eyelids

eyelids are three:
transparent nictating lids
in the inner corner of each eye
work sideways with tears
upper and lower lids come together
horizontally over the cornea
in blissful states they meet
in an upwards curve
but now the top lid is heavier
she’s crawled from the water
but oh, the weariness
warm sun on rock, mat of soft grass
her eyes will not stay open
dream memory: eyelids stuck together
she’s curled up inside thin white walls
light is coming through them
she’s so small, so small to struggle
peck pecking with her special tooth
(whatever happened to that tooth?)
her wet body inches out of the shell
her lids’ first puzzled parting

7. structure

the muscular sclera pockets her eye
an egg-shaped envelope of tissue
with a vertical lens to divide the interior
watery aqueous humour
in the front
jelly-like vitreous humour
on its deep skull side
crampton’s muscles
shift shape of cornea
so Desirée can see
what she needs to see
when her feathers dry

8. iris

her round aposematic iris
has sphincter and dilator muscles
that tighten and loosen
to control the amount of light
that goes into her eye
this bright red iris looks charming
but when it pins and flares
Desi is about to draw blood
any human who grabs her
needs to learn this–
even a cook who saves her–
she takes a piece out of his hand

9. field

all day the pecten
like a folded tissue
on the outside of the retina
has shaded her habitual 360 degree
field of vision
just one moment of weakness

10.

there’s still enough light to fly
after a flight of forty-five kilometres
over Canadian Shield rock, lake, forest
and she’s starving
twenty-four hours without food
then the clearing, humans!
smell of hamburger!
large bowl of what looks like juice!
she lands on the rim
slipslides into the punch
it’s deeper than her bath
and her eyes sting

11

her eyes betray her now
at the optic disc there is a blind spot
the young cook scoops her
out of the punch bowl
her nictating lids work
to wash away the sting

12. eyelashes

he’s understanding
takes her home, entranced
he notices that each upper and lower eyelid
has miniscule lashes–not hair
but vestigial feathers without barbs
curled
the bird is startled
to find his human eyes close
examining her eyes
past caring
she looks past him
past this place

I’d put an ad in our local paper, distributed in the Sharbot Lake area. The cook, though he wanted to keep her, realized someone who cared for her had lost her, and put his ‘found’ ad in the local Westport paper.  The two distribution areas overlapped so there were about eight households who received both papers, put two and two together, and several people phoned me. Desirée and I were reunited in the resort kitchen, where they’d been trying to feed her with seeds. She, however, is a sugar bird, needing sweets and carbs, so after four days, she dived into the french fries on the table, and then into a butterscotch cream pie before she fell asleep on my shoulder, her beak all sticky with potato and pie mush.

she hops up on my shoulder
stops being a wild thing, submits
once more to being a loved thing

And if you’ve been heroic enough to follow this post all this way, my congratulations. At the moment Desirée is asleep in her favourite place, in one of my dresser drawers, on a towel.

(Heading in for a nap. See you at lunch.)

 

 

4 thoughts on “it’s spring and poetry month and so a poem about/from my parrot

  1. Exceptionally endearing. A profoundly meaningful understanding of experience.
    Third from last paragraph Typo:
    “and severla peopel phoned me” should be: and several people phoned me.

    Like

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