My parrot practices his hellos
inside his cage, but in my fantasies
he makes complete sentences,
subject-verb-object, the whole shebang.
On mornings I feel
I imagine him—on my behalf—
making paragraphs, too, nuanced
and soft on the edges, paragraphs
you read in Flaubert,
one of those that stretch the page,
a love affair gone awry and good
once more. In time, he’ll understand
the limits of his grammar,
compromise, maybe sing the blues.
That’s easy for the both of us;
for so many nights we’ve listened
to Lonnie Johnson calling small explosions
in the state of Alabama,
Bessie Smith mocking lovers
on Georgia’s terraces. Alone,
we’ve known weeping and betrayal,
the waiting for a call, the scarlet girls
going forth into the dark.
In secret sometimes my parrot and I
conspire to make a novel,
yet somehow—even when I let him
free—he falls against the window,
unsatisfied. I smooth his feathers
and tell him be still, holy, in this quiet
of saying goodnight to each other.
We know these syllables well.