the inviolable heart

It is my fifth birthday and I become aware. A canary is trapped inside my chest cavity. Its claws cannot grip the slippery bones of my rib cage. It flies in circles searching for a safe place to rest. It finally perches on the conical pouch that forms the left ventricle of my heart. Its feathers are fluffed, eyes half-shut, wings droopy with exhaustion. The unfamiliar stillness scares me more than the constant fluttering. Breathing becomes difficult. My lungs spasm and squeeze the bird between sinew and flesh. Its beak lacerates muscle tissue. A tiny stream of blood spreads over its yellow crown of feathers. My wounds heal but the bird never moves again.

A month later my family leaves the Philippines in a silver jet plane to immigrate to the province of Ontario in Canada. I imagine that the x-ray machines at the airport will reveal my secret but the tall white man at the border just smiles and allows us into this strange new country.

I am now an adult and I do not know if the bird is sleeping, dead or paralyzed with fear. When I die, please remove it from my chest.

Published in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 6. Purchase the book to read the full piece.

Toronto locations referenced in this piece

“Such elegant street names to camouflage the poverty and racial conflict that came with living in the Malvern Jungle . . . ” —Malvern Jungle