Margarita Engle

Child of the Parrot

Three witched offered to grant one wish to each family in the neighborhood. Every family chose the same wish: safety for their sons, or, in other words, exile before the boys reached the age of military service. Each family paid a fortune to the three witches, who said they needed money to hire a sturdy boat that could carry the boys far away, to a safe, foreign harbor in a legendary land where there were never any wars.

Soon after receiving the money, the witches disappeared. Later, they sent back a portrait of themselves standing in front of an easily recognizable landmark, a statue in the foreign country where they had promised to take the boys. Naturally, the deceived parents were furious. The boys were despondent at first, but one of them noticed a serpent twined around the base of the statue in the picture. He pointed it out to the others, who took turns imagining all the ways a serpent could cause trouble for three witches.

If you look very carefully at the historic portrait, you can see the witches already beginning to shrink, grow scales, and lose their legs. It was just a matter of time until the boys sprouted wings. By then, they had formed the now-famous club, call Child of the Parrot. They knew they would be ready to migrate to a war-free zone long before the witches had a chance to float all the way back to their homeland on bits of flotsam and jetsam, in a vain attempt to reverse the magic of vivid childhood imaginations.

Los Angeles

In my hometown there are young men considered so dangerous that when they appear in juvenile court, they are caged. Shackles prevent them from rattling the bars of their cages. They refuse to speak or write any words that contain the first letter of the name of the enemy clan. In this cult of death, even the alphabet is vanishing. The judges are solemn, as mothers and sisters of the accused reach up to clasp the feathers of invisible angels.

No one is dreaming. The young men in the cages are real. The wings and hands are alive. The souls of unspoken words float away, musical hearts vanishing through bulletproof windows.


Cliffs of cinnabar sunset rise beyond the manmade lake, with its earthen dam, hidden tunnels, and a cluster of cabin-tents inhabited by adventurers who pause to swim and rest during their atavistic journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. They travel on foot, lugging backpacks, and leading llamas. They sit on tree stumps around a fire pit, speaking of music and nightmares. "Funny nightmares," one explains, "the kind where you don't know why you were afraid."

The next morning, their journey resumes. The llamas' posture is swanlike. The hikers' beards and backpacks are once again coated with dust. They take a water taxi to the far shore of the lake. Returning to the wilderness, they vanish, as if the High Sierras were a foreign country in a distant time zone, far beyond the sun, as it rises above crumbling vermilion cliffs.

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