Bryan Walpert

THIS POEM IS CONVERSATIONAL

that is, discursive,
more call than song,
less art than documentary, like the one
my wife and I are watching about the kākāpō:
some famous zoologist and Stephen Fry
headed to Codfish Island to study
these odd parrots, which gave up flight
simply because they had no need to fly,
no danger to fly from until people arrived
with rats and dogs and other predators
the silly birds still don’t know enough to run
from (according to the doco), which is why
we’ve turned Codfish Island into a mammal-free
Eden of trees and bush, hence Fry et al.
winging their way there—
except high winds first force their plane
to land on Stewart Island, which turns out
to be a useful metaphor for the way
a conversation can be: the gusts
and sudden turns, the meandering away
from where you began, which in turn
is a useful metaphor for the way life can be,
even if you are Stephen Fry—
or so it seems to me, collapsed on the couch
in front of the television after
our daughter’s fourth birthday party
(fairy theme), during which in fact
we had been subject to more wind,
cooler temperatures and less sunshine
than suggested by the optimistic forecasts.
It nearly pushed us into the house, but we
pushed back, like Fry and his zoologist,
hosted the party in the park
where we’d intended, amid the trees,
in what the invitation called
the enchanted forest, by the swings,
climbing frames, flying fox,
a success despite some shouting
and complaints and cliques forming,
four years being about when the kids start
to stop being the kids you thought
they might be and start being the kids they are,
though who you are changes, of course:
a friend observed that half the parents
were expats, from the States or France
or South Africa or the UK. Honestly,
I hadn’t noticed. The discursive line
of our lives had turned in this direction,
only our accents suggesting each of us
once had been something else
before mortgages, house projects—
another dad and I had a long, winding
conversation whose beginning is largely
obscure but which ended with paint removal—
and little people who need a juice box
and who, wandering out of view
beyond the garden setting of the park—
four being about when they start to move
away from where they think you are—
must be chased down because, though no one
says it, there are dangers more predatory
than the flying fox, four insufficiently evolved
to recognize certain hazards when they approach
with a hungry grin. But no such fears came
to fruition, of course, and the happy squeals
of the girls are what I recall as Fry
and his famous zoologist track down
a hapless kākāpō to photograph in its element
the way we followed our daughter in hers,
around the park, to get a shot that was not blurry
or blocked by a mom or another kid.
I’m too tired now to even think of looking
at the photographs, so I stay sprawled
on the couch as Fry and the famous zoologist
pick up the parrot, stroke its soft feathers,
speak soothingly as you would to a child
fallen off a swing or bar or ladder,
as one girl or another fell, then, refuelled
by pink frosting, recovered, escaped
the comforting arms of her parent,
to climb in her useless fairy wings
farther and farther, only the odd
backward glance, origins tending
to remain visible, if vestigial. 

Author’s Note

Sources

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