Postcard proseIssue 09 | May 2010

Shoulder Season

by Tara Deal

The old woman under an umbrella at the base of an important temple in Chiang Mai gestures to me as I walk by. She is selling sparrows in tiny bamboo cages, and I’m supposed to buy one. To set it free. This is my chance to do something of merit while at the temple. The guidebook reveals, however, that the birds, once released, never stray far from these cages, their home. The old woman scatters seeds to bring them back so that she can snatch them up in the bamboo again. So that they can be resold, tomorrow, in an unending cycle of desire and release.

I pass by the sparrows.

But another tourist comes up behind me and buys all of the birds (maybe ten)  for the unexpected price of about $7.50. (She had been asking about 20 cents each.) The tourist gathers up the tiny cages in his big arms and releases the birds. But then he refuses to return the cages to the old woman, who tries to argue with him. She waves her hands, but he walks away with his clutch of bamboo, as if he has taught her a lesson: now, the birds are really free, you see. There are no cages to catch them in.

The sparrows fly around a bit, briefly enjoying the bright air, before settling back down into the shade, where they can expect to find their crumbs and seeds. Vendors all around the temple sell rice balls on sticks and stuffed steamed buns. There is always something.

The old woman watches her birds while eating a skewered sausage, then relaxes back into her low plastic lounge chair. There is nothing to be done.

About the author

Tara Deal is a writer and editor who recently returned to New York City after living in London, where one of the highlights was the fast train to Paris. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Wander Luster (Finishing Line Press) and the novella Palms Are Not Trees After All, winner of the 2007 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize from Texas Review Press. Her poetry has appeared in magazines such as failbetter.com, nthposition and West Branch. Visit her website.

Read our current issue:

Poetry

Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

Travel notes

Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok