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Published version of "Dear Elizabeth" that appeared in The New Yorker
Yes, I'd like a pair of Bicos de Lacre
meaning beaks of "lacquer" or "sealing wax"?
(the words are the same in Portuguese)
"...about 3 long inches including the tail,
red bills and narrow bright red masks..."
You say the male has a sort of "drooping
mandarin-mustache-one black stripe"--
otherwise the sexes are alike. "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, incredibly beautiful "alternating
lights and darks like nearly invisible
wave--marks on a sandflat at low tide,
and with a pattern so fine one must put on
reading glasses to appreciate it 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.
And their nest, that's "smaller than a fist,
with a doorway in the side just wide enough
for each to get into to sleep." They must
be very delicate, not easy to keep. Still,
on the back porch on Perry St., here, I'd
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 like the Ark. I'd make sure to
leave an entrance in the side. I'd 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.."
It rarely hatches in captivity, you mean--
but we could hope! In today's letter you
write, "The Bicos de Lacre are adorable as
ever--so tiny, neat, and taking baths
constantly in this heat, in about 1/4 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 weak,
they have no song." I can see them as I
write--on their perch on my porch. "From
the front they look like a pair of half-
ripe strawberries"--except for that stripe.
"At night the cage looks empty" just as
you say. I have "a moment's fright"--
then see the straw nest moving softly.
Yes, dear Elizabeth, if you would be so
kind, I'd like a pair of Bicos de Lacre--
especially as in your P.S. you confess,
"I already have two unwed female wild
canaries, for which I must find husbands
in order to have a little song around here."