Soundtrack for a Caged Bird

When my daughter was small she was fascinated by birds. Unable to pronounce her r’s, she would call out “bi’d!” and then identify its type: “ca’dinal,” “spa’ow,” “’obin.” But mere bird watching didn’t satisfy her passion. She was determined to possess what she loved.

Foolish parents, we took her to a pet store.

“Our daughter loves birds. She wants a pet bird she can train to sit on her finger.”

The salesperson pointed to a lovebird without a partner, and said that a solo lovebird would be more affectionate, that it would transfer all its unrequited love to my daughter. With its electric blue feathers, this lonely bird was an attention-grabber with a heart-melting back-story. Sold, along with a cage, food and accessories.

Fiji

My daughter’s courtship of “Fiji” was a nonstarter. Her affectionate overtures went unreciprocated, and eventually she gave up trying to befriend a creature that rejected her outstretched finger with a panicked display of pecking, squawking and flapping. It wasn’t complicated; Fiji simply wasn’t interested in being in a relationship. Life lesson learned: possession has its limits.

There are far greater problems in the world, I know, but a dozen years later guilt over Fiji’s solitary confinement gnaws at me as I deliver her (his?) daily ration of seed and water. To atone, I try to keep music playing in the house; here is a playlist I created for Fiji, a soundtrack to make the caged bird sing.

Literary Inspiration:

Maya Angelou borrowed the title of her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, from a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of America’s first celebrated African American poets. The son of escaped slaves, Dunbar lived in Ohio and died of tuberculosis at age 33.

Sympathy
By Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals —
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting —
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!

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2 Responses to “Soundtrack for a Caged Bird”


  1. 1 Susan Harari April 6, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Do lovebirds sing? Perhaps he’s “pinin’ for the fjords” or for a significant other.


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