June 25, 2021

Rebecca Schumejda

VOLUNTEERING AT THE AVIAN RESCUE CENTER

One of the Scarlet Macaws urinates on me
as I kneel down to change the newspapers in his cage,
then a small green Parakeet laughs and says,
“Pretty girl, hahaha, pretty girl,” over and over again.
Outside the bars that keep these 200 birds grounded,
I feel a modicum of safety. This is no tropical paradise,
just a house in a neighborhood in the Northeast on a
snowy day with almost every room filled with cages
containing rescued, abandoned or boarded birds.
My daughter is trying to get a Cockatoo to dance.
She bops up and down and pleads you can do it.
There is a bird who sings Justin Bieber songs, another
who will pinch your butt if you turn your back on him,
and two African Greys whose own mother ate their feet off.
There are different reasons why we end up where we are,
some of which make sense. I haven’t visited my incarcerated
brother in over a year, but I am here cleaning and refilling water
and food bowls for birds with names like those given to inmates—
Elvis, Baby, Pirate, Shadow, Crash, Diablo, Angel, Skittles.
My daughter is fascinated with the Cockatiel who spits food
through the bars of his cage at her. Mom, do you think they are
happy locked up like this? she asks. This is the closest
I dare bring her to visiting her uncle, and this is the closest
she’ll come to asking me how he is doing. And because it’s not that
birds can’t cry it’s just that they don’t, I continue to pull
the soiled newspaper from the cages without opening the doors.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021

__________

Rebecca Schumejda: “This poem was inspired by a moment of insanity when I agreed to volunteer with my oldest daughter at a local avian rescue center. While there replenishing water and food and cleaning cages, I was struck by the number of birds abandoned by people who purchased these exotic creatures impulsively only to inadvertently abuse and neglect them. While walking through the rooms filled with cages of bird, I felt a pang of guilt for abandoning my little brother who is currently serving a prison sentence. I have found some kind of strange solace in an African Grey Parrot who seldom talks but tends to say, ‘Hey buddy,’ whenever I am working in his room and have my back turned to him. He also bows his head and rubs it against the bars when I am close as if he wants me to pet him, but I am too terrified to do this and in there is a metaphor I am still grappling with.” (web)

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December 29, 2014

Rebecca Schumejda

A LOBSTER’S HOME

On Thanksgiving, everyone brings,
my uncle boils the lobsters
we will eat in lieu of turkey.
Claws instead of wings.
The women put out
crackers and picks,
troughs of melted butter
and empty bowls for shells.
Even though most of us moved
off the Island, everything and every-
one we love comes from water.
My brother worked on a lobster boat
with some other men in our family
when he was still in high school.
Now he is losing his house,
deciding whether to
make the bank take it from him
or simply give it back.
I pick every last crevice,
even suck the meat from the
antennas and eat the red eggs
hiding at the end of my
husband’s tail as he and my
daughter look on in disgust.
It’s alright, really, I try to
convince them in the same tone
my brother used when he told me
he stopped paying his mortgage.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014

__________

Rebecca Schumejda: “When he was alive, my father constantly reminded me of how everything can be taken away from you, except your knowledge—and in this economy, that old adage has sustained me.” (website)

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July 6, 2014

Rebecca Schumejda

BLACK BANANA

When my daughter wants to know
how someone could leave a baby
in a car all day by accident,
I think about how a few years back
she left a banana
wedged behind her car seat
for an entire week
and we could not
figure out what stunk.

After finding it, I looked up
“black bananas” online,
discovered there is a band
that goes by that name and
mothers who blog about
finding them forgotten
in diaper bags.
I saw images of
black banana hair clips
and big, black cocks.
I felt guilty that I wasn’t
patient enough, loving enough
calm enough to take a mistake
and turn it into a lesson.

Back then, I yelled at her
as if she had murdered
the banana, Look what you did!
I screamed, waving it at her
before throwing it into our backyard.
Now, I am thinking about that banana
as she waits for my response,
how if somehow
I could peel it,
the answer would be there
like banana bread
just pulled from the oven.

Poets Respond
July 6, 2014

[download audio]

__________

Rebecca Schumejda: “I don’t think that I need to explain the news story as it is obvious, but Justin Ross Harris was charged this week with felony murder and second-degree child cruelty for leaving his 22-month-old son in his hot car while at work on June 18th.”
(website)

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March 9, 2013

Rebecca Schumejda

HOW TO CLASSIFY A REPTILE

At the reptile show, I am reminded of him,
the first guy who made me orgasm.
As the presenter drapes a yellow Burmese Python
around his shoulders, I think about how my ex showed up
at my doorstep unannounced over a decade after he said
that I was like his Volvo, comfortable and dependable,
but not worth going back to once he’d driven a sports car.
Yes, he really said that and I said nothing, nothing at all.
Instead I cried every time I saw his new girlfriend,
his beautiful blond Ferrari, everywhere I went around campus:
in the food court, at the library, throwing bread to the fish
that swam in the Gunks, playing the bongos outside the art studios,
and smoking clove cigarettes outside the Humanities Building.

While the presenter flips the python over so we can see
the snake’s claws, proof of evolutionary progress,
I think about how I let my ex in, how he sat at my kitchen table
while I peeled and sliced an apple for his daughter
and gave her a glass of milk with a red and white striped straw.
I listened as he told me his sob story about his custody battle,
about not having a job, living in his mother’s cramped apartment
that didn’t even have a bathtub. He even had to wear his bathing suit
to take showers with his daughter. He even asked me if I had a tub.
I listened and poured him coffee. I made peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches for them while balancing my own infant daughter on my hip.
I did not offer up news about myself, I did not offer up our tub.

I listen as the presenter introduces Ally, a seven-month-old alligator
that the police took away from some guy who was keeping it
as a pet in his bathtub. This happens too much, the presenter says,
then goes on to say that a male can end up weighing up to
eight hundred pounds. He walks around the room to give the kids
a closer look. He explains how, like a submarine,
even when submerged under water, the alligator’s periscope-like eyes
allow them to hunt for prey and I look away as Ally blinks at me
and think about how before leaving that day, my ex asked me for
gas money, and without hesitation, I reached into my pocket book
and gave him all that I had: a ten, a five and three ones.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012

Rebecca Schumejda: “When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher asked the class to write poems and I eagerly complied. A few days later, my parents were called into a meeting at the school where my teacher, the principal, the vice-principal, and the social worker discussed how my assignment was unacceptable and how they were worried about my mental state. After reading the poem, my father sat there for what seemed like forever before he looked right at me and said, ‘This is a great poem, Rebecca!’ Then he looked at the teacher and said, ‘Don’t ask your students to write poetry if you don’t want to hear their truths.’ My father, a hardworking roofer, has always been my inspiration.” (web)

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