Rescued Parrots Used in PTSD Therapy

Karen Skolfield
Photo by Ruth Caron

Before Serenity Park these birds 
self-mutilated: featherpluck, bloodbeak, 
broken. Through the compound 
a veteran runs the damaged birds:
You’re flying! You’re flying! 
Though this lorikeet will never fly again, 
tangle of birdskin and buzzsaw, 
it flaps as if complicit in the ruse. 
A marine lines with battered birds 
his wheelchair. The tank gunner 
an expert on sunflower seeds given 
from lips to curving beaks. 
The parrots know who’s who and have 
their favorites. One loves a sailor. 
A macaw sings only for Jim. 
The sulfur-crested cockatoo 
chooses the helicopter pilot: 
Never has a bird let me down.
One parrot spends each morning 
yelling Shut up or else! 
in the only cage the vets  
won’t approach before noon.  
These birds are hurting
Matt says, his good arm 
sweeping the whole of the park. 
Some vets won’t talk unless 
a bird’s close by. Some clean 
the aviary, weeping. Some parrots 
can’t be with another bird, consider 
themselves human, or near enough.

Karen Skolfield’s book Frost in the Low Areas (Zone 3 Press) won the 2014 PEN/New England Award in poetry. Her new poems appear in BoulevardThe Carolina Quarterly, Crazyhorse, GuernicaSlice, and elsewhere. She is an Army veteran who teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.