At a Pet Shop

By Tom Whalen

Featured Art: Red Parrot on the Branch of a Tree by Ito Jakuchu

When the parrot took the cracker I offered, it said:

“Thank you, my friend. You’re the first person to give me anything to eat in decades. There is no a priori order of things. I thought I had been living the good life, but what did I know? The poet fell sick, traveled to the capital, needed words, painted his curtains bright green. A sumptuous village girl threatened me with a cheap lighter. Night after night watching the corpses of rodents turn to bone. I remember when my mother took me to the city, remember how her perfume gave me a high. After that it took me years to find a mate. Night work. Elocution lessons. A treatise on Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen. I kept to the plan I started with. Death is not an experience, food is.”

Then it fell from its perch with a thump, and from its beak an ant exited soaked in the parrot’s blood.


Tom Whalen’s books include Elongated Figures, The President in Her Towers, Winter Coat, Dolls, The Straw That Broke, and the translation of two works by Robert Walser: Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories and Little Snow Landscape (NYRB Classics). His fiction, poetry, essays, and translations have appeared in Agni, Bookforum, The Brooklyn Rail, Film Quarterly, Georgia Review, Harper’s, The Literary Review, The Missouri Review, The Paris Review, Witness, and other journals.

Originally appeared in NOR 14.

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