Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible, 1998
African Gray Parrot
Death of Methuselah, African Gray Parrot
Emulp Der Eno. So much depends on the single red
feather I saw when I stepped out of the latrine.
It is early morning now, rooster-pink sky smoky air
morning. Long shadows scissoring the road from here to anywhere.
Independence Day. June thirtieth.
Does anyone here know about new freedom? These women
squatting, knees wide apart in their long wrapped skirts, throwing
handfuls of peppers and small potatoes into hissing pans over
cook-fires? These children defecating earnestly or weakly, according
to their destiny, in the bushes? One red feather for celebration. No
one yet has seen it but me.
When Miss Dickinson says, " Hope is the thing with
feathers," I always think of something round – a ball from one of
the games I will never play – stuck all around like a clove-orange
sachet with red feathers. I have pictured it many times –
wondering how I would catch such a thing one-handed, if it did come
floating down to me from the sky. Now I find it has fallen already,
and a piece of it is here beside our latrine, one red plume. I
celebration I stooped down to pick it up.
Down in the damp grass I saw a red shaft of another
one, and reached for it. Following the trail I found first red and
then the gray: clusters of long wing feathers still attached to
gristle and skin, splayed like fingers. Downy pale breast feathers
in tufted mounds. Methuselah.
last it is Independence Day, for Methuselah and the Congo.
O Lord of
the feathers. Deliver me this day. After a lifetime caged away
from flight and freedom. After long seasons of slow preparation for
an innocent death, the world is theirs at last.
carnivores that would tear me, breast from wishbone.
Set upon by the civic cat, the spy, the eye, the hunger of a
superior need, Methuselah is free of his captivity at last. This is
what he leaves to the world: gray and scarlet feathers strewn over
the damp grass. Only this and nothing more, the tell-tale heart,
tale of the carnivore, None of what he was taught in the house of
the master. Only feathers, without the ball of Hope inside. Feathers
at last at last and no words at all.