Poetry Wednesday – “Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake” by Nick Lantz

I have a confession to make — I don’t read as much poetry as I should.  Which is why Jason and I started the poetry challenge in the first place, to get everyone reading that poetry that they’ve been neglecting.  It goes as much for me as anyone else participating in the challenge.  With novels, I take a much more active role in finding my next read, whether it be through reading your blog posts, finding recommendations by lists or merely browsing the stacks.  With poetry it’s a more serendipitous thing – all of my favorite poets have found their way to me through moments out of my control.  And while I would like to be more active in my poetry reading, I also love looking back at where all of my poetry-loves have come from.  Today is a very good example of that.  I did not set out to find a poem for Poetry Wednesday today, in fact, I have so many PWs scheduled that I’m way ahead of the game.  But this poem appeared in my life and begged to be written about.

“Of the parrat and other birds that can speake” by Nick Lantz

It is for certain knowne that they have died for very anger and griefe that they could not learn to pronounce some hard words. — Pliny the Elder

When you buy the bird for your mother
you hope it will talk to her.  But weeks pass
before it does anything except pluck the bars
with its beak.  Then one day it says, “infect.”

Your mother tells you this on the phone,
and you drive over, find the frozen meals
you bought for her last week sweating
on the countertop.  “In fact,” she says

in answer to your question, “I have been
eating,” and it’s as you point to the empty
trash can, the spotless dishes, that you
realize the bird is only saying, “in fact,”

that this is now the preamble to all
of your mother’s lies.  “In fact,” she says,
“I have been paying the bills,” and you
believe her until you find a cache

of unopened envelopes in the freezer.
More things are showing up where
they shouldn’t.  Looking out the back
window one evening you see craters

in her yard.  While she’s watching TV,
you go out with a trowel and excavate
picture frames, flatware that looks like
the silver bones of some exquisite

animal.  You worry when you arrive
one day and see the open, empty cage
that you will find the bird dead, stuffed
in an oven mitt and left in a drawer,

but you find it sitting on her shoulder
in the kitchen.  “In fact,” she says,
“he learned to open the cage himself.”
The bird learns new words.  You learn

which lies you can ignore.  The stroke
that kills her gives no warning, not —
the doctor assures you — that anyone
can predict such things.  When you

drive home that night with the cage
belted into the passenger seat, the bird
makes a sound that is not a word
but that you immediately recognize

as  the sound of your mother’s phone
ringing, and you know it is the sound
of you calling her again and again,
the sound of her not answering.


The talent that it took to pull this poem off is amazing.  It’s a conceit that seems impossible.  How is he going to relate this bird to the tragedy and grief of his mother’s decline?  His descriptions are so realistic and perfectly portray the frustration and sadness that goes along with this kind of situation. It’s immensely personal, but universal in many ways as well.  It is simple language that tells a complex, looping story about a bird,  but not about a bird.  What do you think of this poem?  What is your favorite line or stanza?


5 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday – “Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake” by Nick Lantz

  1. I love how “infect” turns into “In fact,” and how “In fact” is really not fact–except to the mother. It ends up having so many shades of meaning within the poem, and shows the power that very simple language can have.

    Incredible poem. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I don’t read nearly as much poetry as I should, myself. I’ve been saving a few for April, National Poetry Month, and Sourcebooks just asked me to review a great looking anthology they’re releasing soon. But, I think I need to join your Poetry Challenge to get this party started for me!

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing this poem. Amazing how the bird becomes the truth-bearer here.

    Also– I think reading poetry is a different experience than reading books. With a book, you read it from beginning to end, and with poetry (unless it’s a long, epic poem), I find myself sampling bits and pieces from various books. Therefore, I seem to have a lot of poetry books piled up around the house rather than in a bookcase!

  4. Stunning. The sound of the bird becomes the sound of the unanswered telephone. So many levels of meaning. Thank you for finding and sharing this!

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