V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





In dozens of plain cages
each with its mirror and bell
my great uncle raised birds
but the steepled bamboo church
with a nest in its hollow pulpit
he, the fierce atheist,
kept for the mating pair.

At his whim, admonished
not to speak, I followed,
acolyte with burlap bag
from which he doled out
ceremonious, almost sacramental,
feed to the fluttering tribe.

Half his thumb is gone:
a loss he would  ascribe
—in a sequence  meant to mirror
my own small failings—
first, to sucking his thumb,
next, to teasing the parrot
and later to being careless
around the carpentry tools. 

Perhaps it was his demeanour
—dry stick of a man—or the way
the door to the birds was locked
and he alone kept the key;

perhaps it was that stump of a thumb
grudgingly displayed when we sat
at the table and the stubborn
afternoon refused to move,

that brings him back
as wizard, magus, brujo,
who, against ransom not received,
holds locked in this spell
of feathers and birdseed,
the children of his kingdom.

© by Ricardo Sternberg


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