From A Canopy of Angels
One dreary, foggy night I find myself in a strange town and at loose ends, so I walk into the local pub. There on a stool I see a parrot, and of all things he’s wearing an eye patch. This I can’t resist, so I sit down beside him. This bird looks me over real good, then hops up onto the bar and hits me up for a drink.
“Avast and ahoy, landlubber lad,
You come in from the weather bad,
To flee a stormy fate.
There’s just one way to beat this fog,
For you to order us some grog.
Stand a pint for a mate?”
says he. I shake my head. “I don’t normally buy drinks for strangers,” I say, “even those who talk in rhymes. I don’t know you from Abby, so why should I buy?”
He looks slightly offended, like maybe I impugned his honor a little. He comes right back though.
“I’ve sailed the seas and flown the sky,
A hundred things you’d never try,
And seen strange things to come.
I’ll tell my tale and make you weep,
And give you sight to treasures deep,
For just a shot of rum.”
I’m not sure. “How do I know you’re really a pirate parrot?” I ask.
He lifts one leg, then puts down a toe and limps around in a circle like he has a peg leg. Maybe not real convincing, I think, but a nice touch.
But I’m starting to get curious, so I say OK. I motion to the bartender that the bird’s ready for fixing up. The guy already has a drink poured and he sets a shot of rum in front of him. I’m a touch curious that he knows what the bird drinks. Must be a regular, I guess. The parrot gulps it down.
“Not so fast, bird,” says I. “I want my story before you get too much of that.”
The parrot turns his head a little sideways, then nods. He starts into his tale.
“The night was dark, the storm hung low,
Our ship caught hard in natures tow,
And tossed like cork on brine.
The wind blew up, the rain came down,
The salty water splashed around,
Our sails like rags on twine.
Far down below we strained to know,
If we’d survive each thundrous blow,
Our hearts would skip a beat.
The mate stuck fast, to stone recast,
The lookout scared to climb the mast,
The Captain, white as a sheet.
None dared to scale the pole but I,
All loathe to brave the storm or die,
None there to hear the mortal cry,
Of “Shoals now dead ahead!”
Atop the mast I squawked “Avast,”
To come about before we’re cast,
On rocks straight in my sight.
“Far from these boulders we must stay,
Pull hard a port and start to pray,”
I screamed with all my might.
To boost our woes, the helmsman froze,
His knuckles gripped in concrete rows,
His eyes like hollow plate.
The wave went slack, came roaring back,
To toss us high, our hull to crack,
Now certain is our fate.
The rocks loomed higher than the bow,
Their fingers reached for keel and prow,
One chance I have, never or now,
I closed my eyes and jumped.
I fell like rock with mighty shock,
Hard on the wheel and spun the stock,
To pull the craft askew.
Our minds areel but we could feel,
The shoals as they tore past the keel,
Around the rocks we flew.
When all was calm they gathered round,
And lifted me high off the ground,
To be their hero, justly crowned,
They made me their first mate.
This tale, it stands, like ocean sands,
Til storms cease thundering through the sky,
Til rummy parrots never lie,
Til all the seven seas run dry.
His throat cracks and he looks at his empty glass, then up at me. I nod to the bartender. The bird refreshes his throat, then goes on.
“While dire we dealt with nature’s wrath,
Some motley lubbers crossed our path,
And stole our treasure chest.
In righteous ire an oath we swore,
To track these scoundrels shore to shore,
Our treasure back to wrest.
We sailed the seas for seven days,
Past moonlight coves and sun drenched cays,
O’er ocean waters blue,
Until one day we caged our prey,
A vipers nest at Kingston Bay.
We’ll give those devils their due.
We counted in at one to two,
But as we neared their numbers grew,
Til we were swamped, our chances few,
Like oysters in the tide.
Although we fought like demons all,
We saw the writing on the wall,
Against that wall were we.
They raised their swords for one last blow,
“To Davy Jones we’ll make you go,
No quarter now to thee.”
“All stand aside,” I boldly cried,
And flew up to the Captains side,
“I’ll show them how they lie.”
I stayed the catch, then raised my patch.
I stared them down, and o’er the hatch,
Gave them the dead man’s eye.
They dropped their swords, they backed arear,
Their faces ashen, white with fear.
None of them would dare be near,
The curse of the dead man’s eye.
With fearful hearts, on bended knee,
They ganged the Captain with their plea,
“Please save us from that fiend.
We’ll take you to our treasure isle,
Where gold and jewels stack high a mile,
And gems you’ve never seen.”
Their eyes so wide they could not hide,
Desire to put their greed aside,
And guide us to that bay.
They trembled hard, they made the sign,
“We’ll be your slaves, we’ll serve your wine,
Just keep that bird away.”
“We’ll travel days through mist and haze,
But when the sun breaks through, its rays,
Will light our hearts and mend out ways,
And never will drink run dry.
I look at the empty glass, wondering how many shots it’s going to take to get to the treasure. I notice that he’s listing a bit to starboard, but I nod anyway. The bartender too is thinking that the bird is maybe getting a bit too many sheets to the wind, so he leaves the glass a little short. The bird looks at it, lifting the patch to see it better, then giving the guy a dirty look, he swigs the whole thing. He pauses to smile a second, as parrots go, then grabs the top of the glass with one foot to keep himself steady.
I get this feeling that I may not get all my story, but he soon looks thoughtful again.
“For days on end we sailed due west,
To find that isle that seemed so blest,
It held a kingdom’s gold.
Our ship she flew with twice the crew,
Toward the dusk, fast o’er the spew,
Enchantment made us bold.
From perch on high, with eagle eye,
Atop the mast, one day I spy,
With gladdened heart and more,
An isle so bright, its beaches white,
Palm trees abound and music light,
Blue waters round its shore.
A paradise unknown to man,
Upon the beach we leapt and ran,
And raced across that amber span,
To where the treasure lay.
With joyous hearts and eager hands,
We dug into those golden sands,
And found that precious prize.
Its bounty great, large gems of weight,
Full chests of royal silver plate,
And coins to awe the eyes.
We filled the hold, we stuffed each fold,
We stacked the decks with precious gold,
And jewels hung from each truss.
The Captain’s look, as stock he took,
In voice yet calm, his head he shook,
“Not one to make a fuss,
But there’s no room for us.”
As we surveyed, her yardarms swayed.
To unbelieving hearts, dismayed,
She gave a groan and gently made,
The bottom of the bay.
Deep in the seam she lay.
We built a craft, a palm tree raft,
To fetch a ship with bigger draft,
To hold the treasure all,
But on that day the fates held sway,
An eddy, monstrous, swept our way,
It’s thirst for sailors, not small.
We whirled around and inward bound,
It pulled us fast and sucked us down,
Below its vale, all hands were drowned,
All hands who could not fly.
I flew for days and endless nights,
Past ships and lands with wondrous sights,
And miles of boundless sea.
My dreams in flight were how I might,
Return to claim my pirate’s right,
But soon, reality.
Where treasures lie I cannot fly,
But just in circles, with one eye,
To go there, nevermore.
But I can show your way to go,
For you to claim what lies below,
That rests beneath the shore,
Great wealth for evermore.”
The parrot leans against the glass, then takes off his patch and pulls out a small paper and hands it to me. I unfold it to find a map to a desert island, with a palm tree and a big x on it. This looks pretty real, I think, wondering if I can afford it. I dig through my wallet to see how much cash I have on hand, thinking a parrot probably wouldn’t have much use for a check. I look over at the bird to find out his asking price, but his eyes have already crossed. He slowly sinks down onto the bar belly up, feet straight up in the air. He’s out.
The bartender shakes his head, then comes over and covers him with a bar towel. “He’s not supposed to drink while he talks,” he says, “just peddle the treasure maps. The rum shots were his own idea.” He sighs, then gets a resigned look on his face. “He used to sell a lot of maps.”
I sit there a minute, then tuck the map under the sleeping bird’s wing. As I walk out I find myself wondering if I could remember enough from seeing the map to find that island.
Maybe I’ll give it a try.