Imagined Absolution, Kelly R. Samuels, [2023:41]

I read of the birds stationed on corners. Not stationed; to say so—and not say so, but write so—is inaccurate. Rather, the birds are kept caged, imprisoned and for sale.

They are red-billed firefinches, pithis, locally. I look them up online, having known finches where I’m from. My parents had a feeder that stood outside the kitchen window, as well as two feeders that hung from the dying pine tree nearby. Mostly sparrows and squirrels came. Drab, making messes. But cardinals, too, and chickadees, and mourning doves, which I always favored for their call and the bluish ring around their eyes. And both purple and goldfinches. The latter reminded me of southern climes, Uruguay, which I have dreamt of.

These red-billed firefinches are not as brightly colored as the male goldfinches. Not the females, and those are the ones seen in the cages. They are mostly brown with only a pink bill and a red smear by the eyes, as if they have been made ready for war. But they are not for war, but absolution.

A person can purchase a bird for a price based on the sin or the anxiety, the worry that keeps them awake at night or suddenly overwhelms them midday, stuck in traffic. That person can confess the sin, the fretful wringing of hands, to the bird, and then release it. And all will right itself. A range of prices, a range of sins. A sliding scale of what either slowly or quickly kills us.

I don’t like the pictures of the birds crammed in the cages. Even if I found Hitchcock’s The Birds unnerving. Even if I have heard of that disease of the many names—caves and darlings and valleys in Ohio. Even if when I was seven I removed from its cage the love bird I had been given and it died of fright, there in my cupped hands.

I don’t like that the one seller interviewed says some birds return to be caged again. Nor that he says, “Birds are just birds.” How are they just birds if they are carriers of human unhappiness? It doesn’t seem possible.

I imagine a woman approaching the man who stands on the street corner and paying the appropriate amount for her sin. Does she get to select the bird or is it chosen for her? I would like to know, but cannot know. And is what she thinks of as a sin actually a sin? And who is to say? There are texts and some of them agree.

The bird lays warm, for a little while.

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