~This poem previously appeared in The GW Review (1993)
LORENZO THE PARROT
With expressionless eyes and a beak
as dry and cracked as an ancient toenail,
he reminds us of elderly men.
But what good is long life
when full wings no longer spread?
That's why this old man stands still and stares
on the same wooden pole where he has stood
for years, barely pacing from side to side
a step of two before nudging into
the insulting obstacle of a tiny trapeze
that is like to fill a nursing home with toys
and its yard with monkey bars
and see-saws made for kids.
The majestic green and yellow of his coat
were once worthy of Monctezuma's crown
but are now ruffled and dull from years
of burrowing with his beak for lice.
He has seen thousands of tortilla pass
between the bars that perpetually surround.
He tears apathetically at their sustenance
then lets them like for days beneath his droppings.
His water is served in a porcelain teacup
as though to bring the flare of optimism,
the comfort of routine,
and the illusion of companions.
And the senseless things he was taught to say,
and seeing the delight they bring,
he keeps on saying them over and over,
even children's names who grew and left,
and the grandmother's whose blue-veined hand
used to pass through the little gate
with long-awaited ration and the words she spoke
in parrot talk, which in absurdity, is somewhere
even beyond baby talk. But he spoke back
saying he loved her when in truth he hardly cared.
Little fingers keep poking between the bars
to see if he bites, and to accommodate a child,
he occasionally yawns just to hear them squeal.
His sleep is hardly different from his awakeness,
head grotesquely twisted to one side
and his face buried in a feathery shoulder.
In either state he dreams the same dream
of mango, banana, coconut and palm,
sun light, green shade and the sounds
of screeching, howling and chirping in the tropics.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM
“Lorenzo the Parrot” was inspired by the parrot who lived in the sala of my parents-in-law in Mexico City for over thirty years, from the time my wife was a girl in that house. Members of the family often called each other across the various rooms and three floors of the house and Lorenzo could mimic the voices and pronounce the names perfectly. Members of the family would run to the sala only to find that it was Lorenzo who had been calling them. In his later years when it was believed he was no longer a risk of flying away, he was left perched on top of his cage on the patio to commune with the wild birds in the trees and after all those years finally escaped.
ABOUT JAMES MILLER ROBINSON
James Miller Robinson teaches Spanish at
Huntsville High School in Alabama and at the University of Alabama-- . His recent poems and short prose pieces have appeared in Rio Grande Review, Xavier Review, Pinch Journal, George Washington Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, Rattle, Wormwood Review, Texas Review, and in the anthologies Francis and Clare in Poetry (Saint Anthony Press) and Whatever Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry (Negative Capability Press), and Maple Leaf Rag IV (Portals Press). Huntsville