Macaws by Sarah Beard; for more information, visit

Reading Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life

by Sydney Doyle

Green-Winged Macaws have a life expectancy of sixty to eighty years.

My mother’s red macaw
holds a walnut between three claws,
slips the tip of her beak
into the split of the shell and bites down,
breaks the nut in two. Half
clatters to the floor as she tastes
the wheat-colored kernel,
flaps her green-tipped wings in bliss.
Seneca says, It is a small part of life
we really live… all the rest…
is not life, but merely time.
We watch her
pry meat from the small bowl,
and click her beak in approval,
the bulk of the nut lost on linoleum.
My mother drops a second handful
of walnuts into the bird’s tin dish
and shakes her head
at the waste.

I think of the labor:
our gloved hands shucked green-black husks,
scrubbed shells, placed the nuts on newspaper to dry
for weeks and waited for the macaw to break
the shell, to taste the meat,
and to pin her eyes at us and tut.

She was there when I was born.
Twenty years later, I wonder if she recognizes
the child in the bassinet
on which she perched, whom she tried to feed
like her own chick: bobbed her crested head
to regurgitate berries and sliced apples,
before my mother shooed her away.
She will outlive my mother.
I will inherit her—
will collect the walnuts alone,
for her.

About Sydney Doyle

Sydney Doyle is small-town, New Jersey native currently living in Baltimore, but still writing about wildlife, the natural world, and what it was like growing up in the middle of (what seemed like) nowhere. She’s an MFA candidate in poetry at Johns Hopkins University where she teaches courses in creative writing.