JP Devine: The Freedom Song –

There she is, perched on my finger, as I hold her up to the morning sun. She is yellow, from her cockscomb to her long tail, with poppy orange cheeks.

The painter Paul Gauguin would have liked it. Her name is Mrs. Kramer and she’s about 20 years old, and that’s a guess.

Ms Kramer, who is around 20, recently rested on the finger of JP Devine. Photo by JP Devine

Where she once owned the house, she no longer flies, so she now lives in a beautiful cage for protection, just like us.

She hates the cage. I hate him too. But we both accept it. She is old, loved and safe.

“Cage” is a harsh and scary word. Can there be two words in the English language, or in any language, more incongruous than bird and cage?

Did the Great Spirit you believe in create birds to be caged? Trees, fences, soft fingers and pillows of wind, but never cages.

I remembered that morning on a New Year’s Eve long ago when my date and I left the ballroom at the Plaza Hotel. We were greeted by the sight of a poor, old homeless woman begging nearby. She stood there in the freezing air, wearing nothing even slightly like a coat.

Mike, the tall Irish porter, walked up to her, took off her enormous green woolen overcoat with the copper buttons, put it on her shoulders, and accompanied her into the hall.

My date, a fresh out of Mount Holyoke, touched my arm.

“Have you ever seen something so incongruous in your life?” she asked.

I agreed, but had to look up the word at home before I could sleep.

Incongruous, “Not in harmony”, he said. “Strange, odd, absurd, bizarre.”

My passion for birds started with “Charlie”, a green amazon parrot that fell from a tree on my shoulder in a street near my house.

I later learned that a few weeks earlier there had been a major fire in the San Fernando Valley and the owners had been forced to release their stock of exotic birds.

Charlie was a survivor, and he sat on a pedestal in our den for almost a year, then one day – bored with civility – flew away.

Mrs. Kramer, a pet store, first sat on a perch in my cageless kitchen for months, until Jack The Dog came along, and it got me thinking. So I bought her a cage, but she hated it and flew to her perch.

One day, she let herself fall on Jack’s back, and he didn’t object. They bonded, a cockatiel and an Old English Sheepdog. Incongruous? In effect.

This morning, I scanned the pale, stunned faces of tall, displaced Ukrainians at stations, waiting for the train doors to open.

With heaps of luggage at their feet, they stood in the freezing cold, holding their children and their cats and dogs, but not a caged bird in sight.

There must be birds, I was thinking. There must have been people among them who owned even a small parakeet. Where were the birds? Maybe those humans just freed them.

Better to die in a burnt tree, they thought, than in a cage.

The caged bird sings
with a scary trill
unknown things
but still desired
and his air is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sing freedom.
—Maya Angelou

JP Devine is a writer from Waterville.

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