Washington University Libraries Home
Final Versions Home

One of two drafts "Dear Elizabeth" dated October 15, 1964

Yes, I'd like a pair of “Bicos de Lacre”—
but beaks of "lacquer" or "sealing wax"?
the words are the same in Portuguese—
"about three inches long including the tail,
with red bills and narrow bright red masks—
The male with a sort of drooping
mandarin-mustache, one black stripe”—
otherwise the sexes are like. "Tiny but plump,
shading from brown and gray on top, to pale beige,
white, and a rose red spot on the belly."
Their feathers, you tell me, are incredibly
beautiful—"alternating lights and darks
like nearly invisible wave-marks on a sand-flat
when the tide’s out—with a pattern so fine
one must put on reading glasses to appreciate
them properly.” Well, do they sing? If so,
I expect their note is extreme. Not something
one hears, but must watch the cat's ears to detect.
You mention their nest that’s "smaller than a fist,
with a doorway in the side just wide enough
for both to get into to sleep.” They must be very
delicate—not easy to keep. Still, on the back
porch on Perry Street here, I could build them
a little Brazil. I’d save every shred and splinter
of New York sunshine, and work through the winter
to weave them a bed—a double exactly their size—
with a roof of thatch. I’d make sure to leave
a little hatchway in the side—and set it in
among the morning glories where the gold-headed flies,
small as needles’ eyes, are plentiful.
Although "their egg is apt to be barely as big
as a baked bean,” you say. It rarely hatches
in captivity, you mean. But we could hope!
Today, again you write: “The Bicos de Lacre
are as adorable as ever—so tiny—so neat,
taking baths constantly in this heat—in about
a quarter inch of water! Then returning to their
filthy little nest to lay another egg which never
hatches.” But here it might! And it doesn’t matter
that "their voice is very nice but weak, and they
have no song." I can see them as I write—
on their perch on my porch. Except for that fine
black line beside the beak of the male, "from
the front they look like a pair of half-ripe
strawberries.” At night, as you describe, "the cage
looks empty—I have a moment’s fright,
then see the little straw nest moving softly."
Yes, dear Elizabeth, I’d like a pair of Bicos
de Lacre. If you would be so kind. Especially as, in your P.S. you confess you "alreadyin you P.S. you confess you already have two unwed
female wild canaries, for which you must find