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

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