Ava Remembers Her Canaries

Posted: January 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

The most recent issue of Image Magazine (Winter 2014-15, #33) included a remarkable poem by Emily Rose Cole, one based on a narrative set in 1888 that presents the complexities of a father-daughter relationship. Titled “Allegheny Country, 1888: Ava Remembers Her Canaries,” the poem presents Ava’s love for her canaries and her father’s real reason for having them in the first place, as a fail-safe detector of gas in the mine.

After a beautiful description of Ava’s passion and her father’s practicality, we discover how one night she stealthily slipped out of the house to set all of the birds free. That little act of liberation cost her a whipping, but that’s not all. As she later reflected on her on her deceased miner father she wrote:

“What I have left of my father –
on my back: five raised ridges from his belt buckle;
in my breast pocket: a yellowed newspaper clipping,
his face smudged in ink, and a headline seared on my lips
each night before sleep: Mining Explosion Kills 17.”

Our decisions, our actions, even compassionate ones, are too fraught with complexity to know the entirety of their consequences. Good intentions for one may unknowingly spell doom for another. And there are those times when we must choose, make a tragic choice I would say, between one horror or another, between canaries or miners.

The thing about being a moral being is that one must choose even if it is by not choosing. We sometimes must commit some harm in the attempt to help. The fact that we must choose doesn’t rationalize our part or responsibility in making the choice. But it does help us understand it. The love for canaries created another kind of loss.

Life is not tidy. We have guiding principles, of course. But what do we do when two ethical principles stand at cross-purposes?  Do we carry the yellowed clipping of that story in our breast pocket forever? Or do we somehow offer it up as an offering made in the attempt to walk this life?

  1. John Smith says:

    Reblogged this on THE STRATEGIC LEARNER and commented:
    Now this gives us something to ponder …

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