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My Father’s Canary

ISSUE:  Spring 1983

There was my father’s canary
in our house, in a cage,
in the kitchen hanging on the wall.
And our cat, always on the checkered
tiles below it. Why the cat lived in
the house was a mystery to me.
The death of a bird meant the death
of a man to my father.

I could never really see the bird
(they hung it so high), but it was
a kind of timekeeper to me. As
long as I saw movement from perch
to perch, as long as a sound came
from the seed bell I knew that
it was all right.

I would often pretend that I was
the bird. My left eye could see past
walls, through doors. My right eye
could see only faces. Carefully I
would pose, this way and that, when
my father came into the room.

One moment he was laughing and
kissing me, the next, with a slow
turn of my eyes, he was lying in
a coffin they wouldn’t open no
matter how hard I cried.

And the bird was buried in the yard
outside, and the cat was left with no
place to go. But all of them continued
in my mind. Only restlessness they
tell me, changes of moods, a bird a cat
and a man when I think about it.
Who am I to say why. The design settles
before we see it.


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