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Poem: "A Stranger Message" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "A Stranger Message"

This poem was written outside the fishbowl sessions.  It was inspired by the story of Humboldt's parrot, which is also told in the song "Strange Messenger" by Vixy and Tony.  It has been sponsored by Shirley Barrette.  Read about the blue-fronted Amazon parrot and the Iberian Imperial Eagle.  I also researched the conquistadores, Don Quixote, Emplumada, and feather-picking.  You can find the other poems in the Fledgling Grace series through the Serial Poetry page.


A Stranger Message


Dolores had always thought of herself
as Mexicana, a descendent
of the courageous Conquistadores,
had taken pride in belonging
to a people who once crossed the ocean
in search of adventure and treasure --

but when her wings came,
everything changed.

They were not, as expected,
the noble gold-and-brown wings
of the Iberian Imperial Eagle
nor even one of several local birds
bequeathed by the Indios.

The feathers opened a vivid green
with a dab of yellow on the shoulders
and a pinch of crimson in the pinions,
the wings of a blue-fronted Amazon parrot --
something out of South America,

something out of the bloody,
tattered past of the land
because no one else
seemed to bear them.

With the wings came the whispers,
soft as faraway voices,
sharp as a yucca leaf
slicing unwary fingers.
Dolores tried to ignore them
but found that she could not;
the words were always there,
caught somehow in the wind
underneath her weird green wings.

So she searched for the meaning,
the reason, behind her peculiar plumage,
and in her searching she discovered
a stranger message still.

She stumbled across the legend of Humboldt's parrot,
how he found people whose pet bird
spoke a different language that no one understood.
The parrot was a relic, all that remained
of losers whose history books would never be written.
The people had been called Atures,
whom the Carib had exterminated in a tribal war.
The last survivors had fled to an island,
choosing isolation and extinction over slavery.
Alexander von Humboldt kept careful notes
and wrote down the forty words that remained.

Cuarenta,
she tried to say,
but the Spanish word
caught in her throat like a bone,
wanting to become something else.

Dolores did not want it,
as she did not want the reminder
of whatever her ancestors had done to each other
to leave her with this unbearable, inescapable legacy.
She felt fairly certain that love had
had nothing to do with it.

There was no one else like her,
at least not that she could discover.
Her brilliant green wings stuck out horribly,
marking her as something alien, something other.

Dolores tried to pluck out the feathers
so that her heritage would not show,
down sticking to the floor with flecks of blood --
feather-picking was a vice
that humans had quickly acquired from birds --
but the sharp quills soon regrew
and the wind would not shut up.

She had read the literature of her people,
or those she had thought to be her people,
Don Quixote  and Emplumada,
but now their words fell flat
and her ears rang with lost sounds.

At last her trembling fingers
picked up one of the crimson quills
and took a knife to it,
cutting a nib into the end.

Very well, then.
If the sounds were lost,
she would go and find them.

In time, perhaps she could even learn
to write with ink instead of blood.

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6 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: technoshaman Date: November 24th, 2012 02:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooof.

I can't honestly say I *like* this one. Is it a good story? Yes. It does what it's supposed to do. And, like The Diary of Anne Frank, there's a silver lining...

But, then, the Universe is like that. Not all stories are pleasant. Sometimes even therapy hurts.

And I *am* pleased that Humboldt's Parrot had another story in him.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 24th, 2012 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>> Ooof.

I can't honestly say I *like* this one. Is it a good story? Yes. It does what it's supposed to do. <<

I often say "appreciate" rather than "like" for material that is well-made but not sweet. I'm glad this worked for you.

>> And, like The Diary of Anne Frank, there's a silver lining... <<

Sooth.

>> But, then, the Universe is like that. Not all stories are pleasant. Sometimes even therapy hurts. <<

Spiritual growth isn't all fun and fairy sprinkles. Sometimes it's a miserable process.

This poem really draws on the darker side of my ethnic studies reading. Much of the literature written by people of mixed heritage is harsh stuff full of imagery about conflict and self-harm, sometimes really graphic too. What you write, how you phrase things, depends as much on nurture as nature, context as talent. So along with characters who are happy with their heritage, there are those who struggle with it -- or against it. But the one fundamental truth of identity literature is that no matter what you do, you cannot escape your own skin. You can't stop being who and what you are. So either you come to terms with that somehow, or you tear yourself apart.

>> And I *am* pleased that Humboldt's Parrot had another story in him. <<

I will never get that story out of my head. It is a tragedy right up there with the loss of the Library of Alexandria. So it will probably continue to recur periodically in my writing, shifting through different iterations.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: November 24th, 2012 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Like. Tweeted @vixy, in case she hasn't seen it yet.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 24th, 2012 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> Like. <<

Yay!

>> Tweeted @vixy, in case she hasn't seen it yet. <<

Thanks everso! I've been so busy uploading poems today -- I just finished -- that I completely forgot about that.
paka From: paka Date: November 27th, 2012 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Now I'm wondering; the Hero Twins stories seem to be a remote echo of the Popol Vuh. As far as I know the Dene and Inde have those, but the Hopis and Zunis and those guys don't. And there's a clan which translates to "Mexican people." It'd be really interesting, in this world, to see whether Dene would show up with markings of birds from far to the south as well as to the north.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 28th, 2012 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

They probably do have some from the south. They would've been on the old trade route to the Mississippi and Third Coast.
6 comments or Leave a comment