Elegy for an African Grey

You did not write this poem,
but perhaps you felt it;
your words, whistles, trills reached
for it.  Of all parrots,
your voice
insisted most.
There are now 102;
with you there were 103.

None have names, but perhaps you did.
All seized from the trade,
were pulled from palm
-rachis carrying cases,
off of motorbikes, pulled
from the hold of a plane.
But not you.
Abducted, a nestling
from a tree hole,

you were fed by human hands, under
one face, then another face, then another.
Perhaps a child gave you a name;
perhaps that child brought you food, laughed,
was family.
Maybe that child’s father turned
you in, having heard
rules on the radio.

Now here,
you are pushed into a cage,
a flight cage.
The child’s voice and face
are gone.  In the cage,
wild birds make broken flights, wait
for their wings to grow again,
for the wire-cage door to open.

You sit on the ground,
others fly over you;
you whistle, trill, make words to the air;
feathers never hacked,
your wings are whole, but
you never flew.

Wild birds cower
from keepers, eyes
round, watchful, defiant.
When the door opens,
you come to the door-ledge, unafraid.
You pull flesh from the palm-nut,
shred sugarcane with flourish.

Claw, beak, claw,
wire rung by rung,
with squat determination,
down the outside of the cage
to the ground,
where with a sashay,
a market-lady waddle,
you come to the empty chair.

But you were one of four,
the “ganga,”
friendless, fearless gangsters
who never flew.
All taken as nestlings,
“So, shouldn’t they be together now?”;
You, were set
by the other three,
side by side
in a smaller cage.

Now, again,
On top of the empty chair
you crow,
a perfect rooster crow,
only louder, brighter, more insistent.
The rooster flaps ungainly towards the chair;

head corkscrews long and thin,
claws lifting.
You crow again,
perfect, relentless.
The rooster shakes his neck feathers,
raises his comb,
wobbles his wattles
flaps his wings.
The hens cluck and peck at distance.

You crow.
The rooster flaps to the seat of the chair.
You crow.
The rooster flattens his feathers,
pulls back for blood.

The keepers rush,
raising their arms,
cascading Swhahili and French.
“Toka, toka.”
The rooster runs,
flapping dust.
You finish your crow with aplomb.

Claw, beak, slide, flap,
you maneuver to the ground,
pass the keeper washing water bowls,
pass the keeper splitting sugar cane
up the big flight cage,
Cage Two.
Claw, beak, claw
pass the door, it’s closed.
To the top.  Wrong cage.
The wild parrots you know
are in Cage Three,
first arrivals,
a meter and a half away.

A black wall rolls in from the eastern sky;
a wind is picking up;
the palm leaves flap
to one side.

You shuffle back and forth
on top of Cage Two,
looking at Cage Three,
as shadows sweep along.
You start down
beak, claw, beak.
You return up
beak claw beak.
You shuffle back and forth
squawking sharply, trill.

The dark wall rumbles
toward the setting sun.
The keepers put the “ngangas”
back in their cage.
They call to you;
they lift up a pole for you to step on;
you move back, away,
under the tilted tin sheet.
The palms lean,
the rain strikes in streaks,
rivulets, runnels, pools.
“He is ok until morning.

In the morning you are nowhere,
because the keepers look everywhere.

Now there are 102;
with you there were 103.

One Comment

  1. Jérémie Isungu
    Posted 2024-03-06 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Very nice job for keeping the fauna!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *