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The New Austerity

ISSUE:  Winter 1999

Heart is lonely so he buys a bird.
He lugs the bird all over in a silver cage.
In the morning, its feathers are orange,
in the evening aquamarine. He tells the bird
his life story, but when the bird stops singing,
Heart decides it’s unhappy. He worries a bit,
then buys a cat to which he also tells his story.
At first the cat is cheerful, then it stops purring.
Heart thinks it’s unhappy as well so he gets a dog—
nothing unique, just a mutt from the vet.
When Heart tells the dog his life story, the dog
falls asleep. It’s more interested in the bird, which
feels drawn to the cat, which admires the dog.
Heart is pushed to the periphery of the relationship.
When he tries to speak, the others shush him.
When he walks around, they ask him to keep still.
Soon the bird, the cat and the dog are laughing
and singing songs. But when Heart tries to sing
or tell a funny story, they ask him not to interrupt.
Heart makes their beds and carries out the trash.
The cat’s fluffy fur gets all over the furniture.
The dog chews up shoes. The bird scatters seeds.
Heart’s busy from sun-up to bedtime. He wonders
if he is still lonely, but loneliness is the luxury
of solitude and Heart has no moment to spare.
Sometimes the cat pats his head, the bird sings him
a few notes, the dog scratches him under the chin.
At least, Heart tells himself, I’m being noticed.
In the new austerity of Heart’s life, this is enough.


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