The Strait-jackets

I lay the suitcase on Father’s bed
and unzip it slowly, gently.
Inside, packed in cloth strait-jackets
lie forty live hummingbirds
tied down in rows, each tiny head
cushioned on a swaddled body.
I feed them from a flask of sugar water,
inserting every bill into the pipette,
then unwind their bindings
so Father can see their changing colours
as they dart around his room.
They hover inches from his face
as if he’s a flower, their humming
just audible above the oxygen recycler.
For the first time since I’ve arrived
he’s breathing easily, the cannula
attached to his nostrils almost slips out.
I don’t know how long we sit there
but when I next glance at his face
he’s asleep, lights from their feathers
still playing on his eyelids and cheeks.
It takes me hours to catch them all
and wrap them in their strait-jackets.
I work quietly, he’s in such
a deep sleep he doesn’t wake once.


from The Zoo Father (Seren, 2001), © Pascale Petit 2001, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Recordings

Pascale Petit

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1The Strait-jackets

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2Embrace of the Electric Eel

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3Self-Portrait with Fire Ants

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4Self-Portrait as a Warao Violin

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5The Ant Glove

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6Landowners

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7The Snake House

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8My Mother's Perfume

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9The Second Husband

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10Atlas Moth

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11Hieroglyph Moth

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12My Birth

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13Memory (I)

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14The Bus

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15Remembrance of an Open Wound

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16The Broken Column

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17Self-Portrait with Monkeys

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18What the Water Gave Me (VI)

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19To Her Unborn Child

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20Hoopoe Boy

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21Arrival of the Electric Eel

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23Fauverie IV (Black Jaguar)

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24Black Bird

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25Fauverie V (North China Leopard)

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26A Tray of Frozen Songbirds

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27Emmanuel

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28My Father's City

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29Harpy Eagle Father

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30Lunette

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31The Hudson Remembers

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Books by Pascale Petit