“Volunteering at the Avian Rescue Center” by Rebecca Schumejda

Rebecca Schumejda


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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