“Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake”

Goddamn. Read this.


“Of the Parrat and other
birds that can speake”

by Nick Lantz

It is for certain knowne that they have died
for very anger and griefe that they could not
learn to pronounce some hard words.

—Pliny the Elder

When you buy the bird for your mother
you hope it will talk to her. But weeks pass
before it does anything except pluck the bars
with its beak. Then one day it says, “infect.”

Your mother tells you this on the phone,
and you drive over, find the frozen meals
you bought for her last week sweating
on the countertop. “In fact,” she says

in answer to your question, “I have been
eating,” and it’s as you point to the empty
trash can, the spotless dishes, that you
realize the bird is only saying, “in fact,”

that this is now the preamble to all
of your mother’s lies. “In fact,” she says,
“I have been paying the bills,” and you
believe her until you find a cache

of unopened envelopes in the freezer.
More things are showing up where
they shouldn’t. Looking out the back
window one evening you see craters

in her yard. While she’s watching TV,
you go out with a trowel and excavate
picture frames, flatware that looks like
the silver bones of some exquisite

animal. You worry when you arrive
one day and see the open, empty cage
that you will find the bird dead, stuffed
in an oven mitt and left in a drawer,

but you find it sitting on her shoulder
in the kitchen. “In fact,” she says,
“he learned to open the cage himself.”
The bird learns new words. You learn

which lies you can ignore. The stroke
that kills her gives no warning, not—
the doctor assures you—that anyone
can predict such things. When you

drive home that night with the cage
belted into the passenger seat, the bird
makes a sound that is not a word
but that you immediately recognize

as the sound of your mother’s phone
ringing, and you know it is the sound
of you calling her again and again,
the sound of her not answering.

 

From Gulf Coast.

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