birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Iquitos, Peru. The airport looked like some kind of movie set, not real, a bit flimsy. The officials seemed bored, ready to rid themselves of this group of American pharmacists heading up the Amazon. Everywhere people tried to sell us things. Earrings, necklaces, and other trinkets. Fruit and live monkeys, so many monkeys, some small other large. I wanted one. Wanted to hold it. Care for it. Set it free. But buying monkeys meant more monkeys would be trapped brought into town our guide warned.

On the boat, we saw pink dolphins and brown water and houses on stilts along the banks. We were going to a lodge in the rainforest with an adjacent research center and canopy walkway. 

The guys on the boat laughed a lot. They smiled and tried to hold my eyes and then laughed some more. At the lodge one of the guys lingered in my room as if I might ask him for something. When I turned my back, he left without a word. Later I learned that many the tourist women slept with the guides. That it was a bit of a problem. 
At supper, a parrot sat at my table, on it really. When I turned by head, he took a piece of fruit or vegetable off my plate. I watched tapirs run past. It felt like a movie everything so vivid, so right there. 

The laughing frogs at the research center made me believe someone was there talking just down the hall. The monkeys in the trees reminded me of squirrels back home. Watching a group of macaws fly through the valley took my breath away. 

The people I visited lived in open-air pole foundation houses with thatch roofs. They used hammocks for furniture. On the one interior wall in the center of the house, they pasted up magazine photos in a collage like they did in the houses described in Now Let Us Praise Famous Men. I liked the unfettered breeze. I liked how they could clear the house of furniture in minutes without any strain. Like the guys on the boat and at the lodge, they were quick to laugh and smile. 

I sent to a rum distillery where an ox plodded in a circle pressing sugar cane. Someone had a radio and batteries, so we danced between shots of rum. The bottles had been pulled from the river, filled with rum, then corked. The dances relied on quick twitching of hips. 

That night a shaman gave us leaves to put under our pillows. Leaves of plant that would make us dream of those we loved or missed. All night I dreamt of plants. The sort that grow in meadows.  

New York City