Enough of them so that their flock shook in levels of branches
and they screamed like treed cats. We called them wild parrots.
They arrived with the high school's morning band practice,
mimicked off-key anthems, a faltering marching beat. In the afternoon,
they returned when I was the only one home in the house he'd
left. Each a green witness in the blue gum. I heard they were escapees
from the wildlife park where my aunt made us ride an elephant and
burned my sister with a cigarette. Later, I heard differently. Sometime
in the sixties and released during a Los Angeles brush fire, they'd
Saved, they flew to our house and multiplied. I didn't know
what we could offer. Once exotic ornaments, they landed, daily and
cherry-headed, for berries in my mother's front yard. The
conures cried as if fire burned still and they were singed, as if
the keeper had starved them or let rough children pet them. They
cried and fruit smothered their beaks. I watched the red burst and
wondered from what we'd broken free.
Pigs were drawn on the outer plant-walls. On the way to Vernon,
where Leonis the Basque saw steer for cuts Los Angeles would need,
my father drove alongside milk trucks and drunks to early business
in the dark.
Over a bin full of steer, he didn't expect the heads, severed,
to wink and twitch, didn't expect to see what's habitual
give up. Watched with charges outnumbering ones he could tally against
himself or others, he hurried to toss a canvas-mat over heads stacked
two-high. An old-timer gave him hell, said he'd be to blame
for the quick turn. Everyone's got to see, he said and pulled
a sandwich from his metal lunchbox.
Three months later, my father, candy bar in hand, stood over freshly-dead
steer, their faces separated from parts most would want. Looking
past their lives, he eyed pieces to slow cook, sections reserved
for those with patience to rub the muscles' toughness, for
those with time to erase what years of chewing had hardened.
Split from solid bodies, their lives' heat ascended into my
father's face and his chocolate melted. He didn't see
the reflexes; his own had ceased. In Vernon, he hardened, left off
with accusations and offals to keep sight of the cheek, a prize.
His vision narrowed to see past the most for what gets trimmed away.
After sleep and time at home are shoved into a cooler, what remains
is good, too: the waste of work and midnight sliced from the whole.
Mt. Rainier before my summer gold looked almost paper-thin. We'd
come that far: my aunt's black car crowded with women and
children. They drove to show us something besides the wait for Friday
night's face-down cards and smoke in their low-hanging kitchen
lights. Four of us fit around them, women who lorded over two motel
queens the first night.
When the road opened, we stopped for Lee, carsick. I leaned on the
hot fence, plastic bags banging there. Later, Neil and Bobby waded
into a lake and came out screaming, drawing in the air a snake they'd
seen. Further north, at a café, we talked with a tall man
whose leg, an open sore, was crossed for me to watch. He pointed
out leaves to avoid. Everything green could hurt me. On the last
day before we turned the car south, my mother asked a ranger about
a bear we'd seen the year before. Shot, he said.
But no one wanted to return. And no one noticed the men were gone
until the 101 and somewhere near the Santa Susanna Pass. The black
Impala, lost in the Ventura night, strayed. I heard them say this
is where it happened. I heard them, in the front seat, say let's
sing a song. The too-thick gap between words forced me to the floor.
They sang. I listened to the engine. Between songs, my aunt couldn't
see a goddamn thing.