Canary Song

Canary Song
by Dave Donelson

On Tuesday she put on her housekeeping clothes. Black yoga pants with a little tear on the seam, a faded tee shirt from a 5K run from when she did things like that, a red headscarf to keep the dust out of her hair.

For there is always dust. Motes flicker in the sun from the window, gather like dry dewdrops on the fine hairs of her forearm before she brushes them off.

She starts with the fireplace mantle. Her mother always said to start high because the dust settles low. Her last chore will be to vacuum the carpet.

Music comes as she lifts the photo of her late husband. The music is sibilant, rhythmic breath, really, just unconscious song to keep her company.

The table by her reading chair is next. She moves the Louise Gluck book—no dust on that—so she can swipe the table top.

She hums now, the music more recognizable, her duster moving with the rhythm of Do-Re-Mi, as if she were Julie Andrews.

When she gets to the canary’s cage, she sings Joni Mitchell. Something about a parking lot and a taxi, she can never remember the words so she makes them up. The canary flits to the other side of the cage and preens, using his beak to sweep the dust from his wings.

The bird poses in front of the tiny mirror in the cage and she catches her face in that same mirror, reflected as if she were behind bars. She laughs at it.

The carpet vacuumed, she sits in the chair by the window, where good chairs should always be, and lights her one cigarette of the day. She opens the window and thinks of another song—Puff the Magic Dragon—and laughs again.

The sounds of afternoon filter in. Is it too late to go swimming? Perhaps she will put on her one-piece—bikinis are a thing of the past—and drag her chair out on the lawn to catch the last rays of the day. The neighbors would love that.

The canary sings behind her, a song bereft of lyrics but blessed with melody.


Dave Donelson is a freelance writer and artist whose work has appeared in dozens of publications as diverse as American Atheist, the Christian Science Monitor, Plum Creek Review, Inkwell, and Stoneboat Journal. The author of 16 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and memoir, Dave was honored in 2023 by the NYS Council on the Arts for his collection of graphic poetry, Visions of a Certain Age. An overview of his work can be found at

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