[after the painting of the same name by Daniela Bradley, 2012]

By Stevi-Lee Alver

Phoenix n. 1 a mythical bird, of gorgeous plumage, fabled to be the only one of its kind, and to live five or six hundred years in the Arabian desert, after which it burnt itself to ashes on a funeral pile of aromatic twigs ignited by the sun and fanned by its own wings, but only to emerge from its ashes with renewed youth, to live through another cycle of years.

My nan a devout Catholic, stands at four-foot-seven-inches, has snow-white hair, cloudless-sky blue eyes, and attends church twice daily. Morning mass is followed by delivering communion to the sick at home, elderly in old-people facilities, and the unfortunate in hospitals. She goes for various reasons in the evening: confession, religious education, psalms, sacramental Eucharist, Rosary, choir, novenas, and other litanies.

I remember an owl feasting on a rosella’s crimson breast. Startled, the owl stopped momentarily, a prophet’s face with scrutinising eyes, then continued pecking flesh and plucking feathers. ‘The rainbow massacre,’ is how I describe this memory.

A stare of owls is one collective noun for a group of owls.

My pop, a thrower of darts and feeder of birds, stands at five-foot-one-inches, has forest-dark eyes, a sinewy grey-black beard, and a thick Irish accent. ‘Ah, ta-be-sure, ta-be-sure, ya-kids-dunno-how-good-you-got-it,’ he tells us. ‘We had-ta-walk-a-mile ta-dhe-well-for-water.’

We all know my pop’s singsong stories by heart, anticipating the next line before its been spoken. ‘Me pa was as tight-as-a-fish’s-ass-hole, sippin-whiskey while dhefamily- had-not-a-dhing-ta-eat.’

I picture my pop as a boy: a thrower of rocks and killer of pigeons; skinny legs warming by the fire; a little mouth watering in anticipation; hungry eyes watching as his bent mother prepared and baked pigeon pie.

I get a slight vomit taste in my mouth when I imagine pigeon pie.

The multi-coloured rosella is my pop’s favourite bird. He told me that female rosellas have male rosellas wrapped around the tips of their little blue-wings. Rosellas mate for life. After choosing the eucalypt for nesting and preparing a cavity for incubating, it becomes the male’s sole responsibility to feed the brooding female.

In 1962 my grandparents, with two babies, became Ten-Pound-Poms. After immigrating to Australia they had three more babies, seventeen grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and a fifty-four year marriage.

Leprechauns, peasants of enchanted under-water cities, stand at one-foot-five-inches, bury treasure at the end of rainbows, and use magical red top hats to disappear and evade further capture.

Leprechauns, mystified by sensational propaganda promising land of riches, underwent mass exodus from deep-water-shanty cities to small-secluded burrows in Ireland’s countryside.

Clurichauns, the alcoholic cousins of leprechauns, walk the night in drunken stupors, making them easier to catch than leprechauns. ‘Capturers beware,’ says my pop. ‘Ikid- ya-not, dhem-surly-clurichauns-bite.’

Phoenixity n. 1 the quality or state of being a phoenix, esp. a paragon, or unique existence.

My pop found a freshly killed rosella. Despite the puncture wounds, the bird was in perfect condition. He blamed the next-door-neighbour’s cat. With wire cutters he detached the bird’s wings. Once the stench was gone, the preserved wings became a flying mobile for the latest great-grandchild.

A pair of rosellas is one collective noun for a group of rosellas.

A family of rosellas is another collective noun for a group of rosellas.

My nan is a terrible cook. Once, during dinner my mum described the food as ‘a bowl of boiled pigeon brains.’ Another time, in my grandparent’s fridge, my mum found decaying mincemeat, ‘three months passed the use-by date,’ she told us. She threw it in the bin. Later that day, it was back in the fridge.

‘Waste not want not.’ My nan’s favourite saying. Her Irish words flow like gentle streams in dark forests.

When visiting my grandparents, I spend more time with my pop’s rainbow lorikeet than I do with them. With Nan always at church or running errands for the big guy upstairs, and Pop always out doing odd jobs for the neighbours, I’m often left to entertain myself.

My pop maintains the yard of the widow down the road. Without telling her and while she’s at work, he goes down there. Mows the lawn. Cleans the gutters. Sweeps the driveway. Repairs the fence. So, every now and then, when the widow comes home, she finds her yard in better shape than she left it.

My pop’s rainbow lorikeet is an extravagant creature. With his flaming-red beak he busts open the hearts of eucalyptus flowers, with his funny little tongue appendage— like the end of a Kreepy Krawly pool cleaner—he absorbs the eucalyptus nectar, and with his bopping little mauve head he parades around the house—like a member of The Royal Family. With splashes of orange over a yellow chest framed in emeraldgreen wings, I’m forever mesmerised by him.

When I was sixteen I bought a canary-yellow Ford Cortina that broke down constantly. My pop taught me how to:
change windscreen-wiper motors
parallel park
change tyres
kick-start starter motors by bashing with a spanner
duct-tape spare keys to the chassis
replace radiators
fix mufflers with wire hangers and Coca-Cola cans

We resurrected that canary-yellow Cortina so often that we called it Phoenix.

The next-door-neighbour’s cat was found dead. There are laws about baiting domestic cats.

A nuisance of cats is the collective noun for a group of cats.

Once, my mum’s cat got pregnant. She walked in on Nan drowning the kittens in a bucket of water.

‘To be cruel to be kind.’ My nan’s second favourite saying.

I learnt the serenity prayer at Al-Anon meetings: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.’ My nan’s favourite prayer. She continues attending Al-Anon meetings.

Both my grandparents are hoarders. Pop collects bird statues and pot plants. Nan collects Virgin Mary statues and holy water. I once saw holy water auctioned on

My grandparents don’t own a computer, and reminisce over rotary dial phones.

My nan launders altar cloths; arranges the church before and after mass and funerals; utters: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, when blessing herself; and prays for us all.

I once read that five ghosts reside in the Phoenix Theatre, Arizona. Light-Board- Lenny, the most mischievous ghost, is renowned for changing lighting settings during shows and locking spot operators out of lighting booths.

I told my nan about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate, who has his own version of the Lord’s Prayer, it’s called ‘The Lord’s Last Prayer’.
My nan told me that she has a cousin living in San Francisco.

‘Poetry is all things born with wings that sing.’ My favourite Ferlinghetti quote.

Australia doesn’t have a Poet Laureate.

Phoenix n. 2 a Southern Hemisphere constellation near Tucana and Sculptor.

I remember being woken up by my pop’s rainbow lorikeet. I remember him hopping around on the blankets, gently biting my nose, and imitating me: ‘you’re a rainbow with wings, a rainbow with wings.’ His voice is a curious mix of chatter, squeak, chirp, and squawk, but a voice nevertheless.

After recovering from a hit-and-run, my pop’s lorikeet learnt to imitate us all. Before eating he says, ‘Amen.’ Imitating my nan. At random he’ll say, ‘get a feckin-rainbowup- ya.’ Imitating my pop. And, like all works-in-progress, his imitative repertoire continues to expand, including but not limited to barking dog, ringing phone, beeping fridge, whistling kettle, and other singing birds.

My pop’s rainbow lorikeet is completely toilet trained. He even knows to shit in the laundry sink when no one is home. For this, we’re all grateful. Rainbow lorikeets are known to survive for up to thirty years in captivity.

Once, Nan thwacked Pop on the head with a cast iron skillet.

My pop has been sober since 1986.

An annoyance of leprechauns is the collective noun for a group of leprechauns.

In the early nineties my pop worked in the outback building roads. He describes spacious sunsets and crepuscular attacks. With owls swooping from darkness and into the remaining reddened light, grabbing juvenile feral cats and—like phoenixes rising from ashes—flying off into the twilight.¹

A sagaciousness of owls is another collective noun for a group of owls.

¹ Bradley, ‘Phoenix’, painting in ‘An Implicit Inheritance’, exhibited Lismore Regional Gallery, April-June 2013,