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The Shriek They Knew So Well

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil

When Chico, my parents’ beloved pearl cockatiel, flew away, Father drove circles around the lake—windows rolled down in ninety degree heat—calling the bird’s name in a thick, coconutty Indian accent while Mother paced the sidewalks carrying Chico’s three-story white iron cage hoisted high above her head, doors blown wide open in hopes that Chico would see my mother, see his cage, and swoop straight home to his ceramic cup of fat sunflower seeds and bouquet of millet spray, but by twilight Father wept as he finally pulled into the driveway and Mother walked to the driver’s side window and threw one of Chico’s jangly rope toys into my father’s lap, hissing, What’s the use, what’s the use?

Surely the hawks or Florida heat would soon pierce the thin belly of their bird. Father gripped the wheel tighter as if trying to catch his heavy sobs into the dark center of his hands and suddenly, there it was—the shriek they knew so well, the tiny white Mohawk, the bright flash of yellow and gray—on the tip-top of the persimmon tree. Not even the fruit was harmed by his tender claws. Father scooped Chico up into the boat of a black umbrella. My parents cooed over their wild luck. Later that night they clipped the cockatiel in the kitchen sink for a rain of feathers. Chico’s cup was full again. More seed husks to be cracked and split.


Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of the poetry collections Miracle Fruit (2003) and At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), both from Tupelo Press. Her poems have appeared in Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and New England Review. She has a geriatric dachshund named Villanelle and lives with her husband in Western NY where she is an associate professor of English at SUNY-Fredonia.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore