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The Canaries In Uncle Arthur’s Basement


ISSUE:  Spring 1985

In the white house in Rutherford
the ancient upright piano never worked
and the icy kitchen smelled of Spic ‘N Span.
Aunt Lizzie’s pumpkin pie turned out green
and no one ate it but me and I did
because it was the green of the back porch.
That was the Thanksgiving it rained and I first thought
of rain as tears, because Aunt Lizzie was in tears
because Arthur came home from the soccer game drunk
and because he missed dinner brought a potted plant
for each female relative, and walked around the table
kissing each one as Lizzie said, “Arthur, you
fool, you fool,” the tears running down her cheek as
Arthur’s knobby knees wobbled in his referee’s
shorts, and his black-striped filthy shirt wet from the rain
looked like a convict’s. What did I know?
I thought it meant something. I thought
if I were Uncle Arthur I’d never again
come out from the dark basement where he raised canaries,
the cages wrapped in covers Aunt Lizzie sewed,
and where, once, when I was very small and because
   Uncle Arthur
loved me or loved his skill or both he slowly removed the
   cover
from a cage and a brilliant gold bird burst into song.

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