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Wilson's Carolina Parakeet: 1810


Dear Bartram,
                 I enclose a recent sketch,
a paroquet obtained near Big Bone Lick.
Her flock alighted on a sycamore,
thronging its winter branches like summer leaves.
Though each successive discharge of my gun
brought showers down, their sympathy was such
that, after a looping circuit through the air,
they settled again above their prostrate brethren.
The tree releafed!
                                The specimen you see
was wounded only slightly in the wing:
soon she was husking seeds from cockle-burs
and gnawing at the bars of her stick-cage.
Perched in the stern, she piloted our vessel
down the Ohio (past one sylvan scholar
who thought its name—The Ornithologist
derived from the Iroquois!) to Louisville.

Science and literature are friendless there;
I found not one subscriber, only a damned
bedizened Frenchman, known as Oh-Doo-Bon,
who smirked a little when he saw my drawings
and hemmed and hawed in Froggish with his damned
bedizened friend. Might he subscribe? I asked.
Ah no, monsieur. And worse, he showed his drawings—
which were, it pains me to confess, quite good.

On leaving there, I snugged the bird in silk
and, now on horseback, carried her in my pocket,
unbinding her for meals, which she devoured.
In recommitting her to "durance vile"
we often quarreled—she thus, and more than once,
paid me in kind for the wound I'd given her.
Twice she escaped in the deepest wilderness;
twice I was tempted to emancipate her—
but each time I pursued.
                                                I carried her
a thousand miles. We crossed the Chickasaw
and Choctaw nations, where I forged, through Polly,
many a bond. At Natchez, Dunbar gave her
a proper cage; I hung it out of doors
where passing flocks were drawn to Polly's call:
several parties in trees conversed at length
with my gregarious prisoner.
                                                One such suitor
I wounded slightly in the wing. That night
the fond pair nestled together, Polly's head
tucked underneath the plumage of her mate.
Ah, she was heartsick when he died! But when,
in New Orleans, I bought a looking-glass,
all of her former fondness seemed to return:
she burbled to the glass and dozed against it.

By now she knew her name and came when called;
she perched upon my shoulders, ate from my mouth,
learned more of the Scottish tongue than England knows....
Determined to continue her instruction,
I brought her with me when I went to sea—
would I had not! One morning as I slept
she freed herself and perished in the Gulf.

The figure in this sketch—my sole companion
many a lonesome day—is a faithful likeness.


Geoffrey Brock

Subtropics

Spring/Summer 2013


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