Wednesday, February 29, 2012


by Lisa Cihlar

Birds begin writing secret messages
in the autumn. I watch out the window
as the starlings start to spell their stories
in the air, swing to and fro and flash black
to silver. Cuneiform I suppose, or some
Asian script I cannot read.

At the pet store I want to buy an African
grey parrot with a perfect scarlet tail,
but the clerk tells me he is a mean one,
destructive too, chewing anything he
can reach through the cage of bars.
Maybe I would like the blue Macaw
with its lemon colored belly that laughs
out at odd moments when nothing is funny.

Or a turtle, surely a turtle would fill
my life with some kind of joy. And the Macaw
laughs. Against advice I take home
the African with all the accessories designed
to make him happy. In the cage by the window
he stares at his reflection, refuses to translate
anything the migrators have to tell, engrossed
in how his wings fan. But when cloth covers
the cage at night he begins to whisper things—

Hold this paper up to the light, back to front,
read the cursive left to right. That is all
they are saying. If you can’t understand it now,
try again when they fly next year. The story
may be different then, but there is always
a jungle and storms over the ocean. And fruit.
Crows don’t tell tales you know, too busy
telling the truth, always literal, flying straight.

~ first published in Wisconsin People and Ideas