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The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi

By Eugene Ostashevsky.

This is the story of the pirate
and his parrot, not unlike
the ballad of Bonnie and Clyde
who, however, were a little more
desperate. And disparate.
On the day of their meeting,
the pirate was not yet a pirate
although, always aspiring
to become one when an adult,
he had amassed a vast
private collection of pirate arms:
yatagans, grappling hooks,
blunderbusses, Malaysian krisses—
three hundred and fifty eight total!
The parrot was already a parrot.
How they met, closed-circuit cameras agree:
in a dark pet store on a dank day,
(both nose and beak were full of mucus),
not a little nervously
the two confided in each other how much they loved to play
They assaulted tourists from Bali
all the way to the Venice Biennale,
then took a trip down to Cali-
fornia, where they worked as instructors of cali-
sthenics, calibration and calligraphy;
cooked cauliflowers; then reallo-
cated themselves to crime; and finally
with the proceeds bought themselves a galleon
in case they should come across a large store of gold bullion.
It was then they took to the sea
and took up piracy.
They raided packet boats, pedal boats
and boats at once packet and pedal,
palanders, pirogues, pontoons,
and gondolas made of metal,
dhows, dinghies, baidarakas,
catamarans and clippers,
feluccas, garrookuhs, tankers,
bathtubs and bedroom slippers!
But whether on the wavy wave
or on the coconut-strewn shore
they never did forget
that old dark and dank pet store,
not even when filling their coffers
or beheading recently met kafirs.
They worked hard,
became successful and wealthy,
they bought art
and a split-level house in New Jersey,
although they were never in it for the cash
but because the criminal form of life is such a blast!

“What a beautiful song,” said the pirate. “I wish I knew all the ship-names in it.”
“Shhh,” said the parrot, “We’ll look ‘em up later.”
“Later when?” asked the pirate.
“When this book is over,” said the parrot.
The pirate fell into deep thought.
“Will we exist when this book is over?” he suddenly asked.
“If it’s a good book,” said the parrot.


Listen, parrot, says the pirate,
the lights have gone out all over the ocean
and we’re alone. What shall I tell you
that might fit the occasion, my
Piggy… Porky… what was his name,
the one that was with Winnie the Pooh? Piglet,
says the parrot. Yes, says the pirate,
are we not just like them,
paragons of a perfect friendship?
I’m not sure, says the parrot.
Would you prefer then, says the pirate,
another proverbial pair of companions,
Socrates and Alcibiades? No,
says the parrot. I mean to say,
says the pirate, this: just as an omelet
has properties other than the properties
of eggs, milk, cheese, and whatever other parts,
so a pirate and a parrot are more
than a pirate without a parrot
and a parrot without a pirate.
Also the number two is not the same
as two ones: it is an even number, and they aren’t.
Socrates says this in Hippias Major.
Socrates can say whatever he pleases,
says the parrot, but I still don’t feel
we relate to each other; I feel
you’re a stranger to me, pirate, you can’t
make me out really, you think
I’m some interchangeable bird. Oh, no,
says the pirate, how can you even say that?
is it the night, the darkness? No, parrot,
stars shine even if clouds cover them…
And the two of us are on the deck of a ship
headed somewhere, God knows where,
and we’re headed together. But maybe
it wasn’t meant like that, says the parrot,
maybe we’re here by chance.


Like first-order and second-order logic are complete and incomplete in different ways,
The differences between the pirate and the parrot never cease to amaze.

The parrot has just spent a half-hour reading a sentence that says: “For whereas if it is impossible that A, it is impossible that both A and not-B (and similarly if it is necessary that B), that it is necessary that if A then B does not so obviously follow from the claim that A is impossible (or B is necessary),”
But the pirate used to have a part-time job as a Mohel-in-the-Box who, when he jumps out of the box, breaks into “It’s a long way to Tipperary!”

The pirate relaxes by playing with action figures depicting Einstein, Eisenstein, Gertrude Stein, Frankenstein and Wittgenstein,
But the parrot once stole Gertrude Stein, telling the pirate she emigrated to Palestine;

He dressed Einstein and Eisenstein in the costumes of Batstein and Robinstein,
And made Frankenstein wrestle Wittgenstein in the landscape of Liechtenstein (with speech bubbles saying Ow, my hip! and Your name STILL isn’t Frankenstein generously provided by Roy Lichtenstein).

The parrot likes rhyme
But the pirate thinks no rhyme is no crime, as long as there’s the Sublime!

Another time, the pirate lost a regatta in a cutter that took on too much ricotta,
Which the parrot, trying to deballast, ate so much of that he had greater runs than a cantata or a toccata,

And as he hung over the railings losing his insides like some kind of piñata,
The pirate didn’t know whether to curse or laugh and so was suddenly struck by a stupendous stutter,

And thereafter—like the old man of Alma-Ata who fell into a gutter after eating panna cotta while sexually molesting Harry Potter,
That Harry Potter who, with his spook tackles off, looked like an Eros—without errata

To the old man of Alma-Ata who, later lying in the gutter, got an urging to utter, “I feel so ashamed cause my wife, whose motto was Nothing in excess, has just died and I already forgot her!”
But managed to mutter only incoherencies and inconsistencies because his entire self was so erotically aflutter—

The pirate solved his speech impediment by rubbing his palate with almost liquid sticks of par(s)ley-sprinked butter
And the parrot sat on a stopper to stop his splutter.

Reading this poem, the parrot finds some of the jokes funny and some forced, the total effect as arbitrary as Aristophanes,
and the pirate responds, “ Aristophanes? I don’t even know ‘er knees!”

The pirate believes nothing is anything: that the world is just a coagulation of gunk that acquires form only in contact with language (and that the form thus acquired is unique to each contact),
As for the parrot, he sometimes takes this for a fact, and sometimes decides this is not a fact; sometimes he opines it might be a fact; sometimes he asks himself whether, if it were (or even were not) a fact, it would be possible to ascertain whether it might or might not be a fact… and then he tries to figure out what a fact is and becomes sidetracked…

When the parrot is molting he lowers the shades so that no light escapes, not even a single photon,
The pirate, on the other hand, often photographs himself as Che Guevara smoking Cuban cigars next to signs that admonish,
“Nur für Kapitalisten:


Eugene Ostashevsky is a Russian-American poet and translator from New York. He edited OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, the first English-language collection of the writings of Daniil Kharms and the poets and philosophers of his circle in 1930s Leningrad. He is currently preparing a volume of Alexander Vvedensky for the New York Review of Books. Books of his own poetry, Iterature, The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza and Enter Morris Imposternak, Pursued by Ironies, published in New York by Ugly Duckling Presse, are critically acclaimed for their negotiation between, and defiance of, the Russian and American poetic traditions. The poems presented here come from The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi, a work-in-progress about the relationship between a pirate and a parrot.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, March 4th, 2012.