My Mother used to wake me up on school mornings by sitting on the edge of my bed and stroking my forehead while she sang “Birdie, birdie with the yellow bill – hopped upon my window sill – cocked his shiny eye and said – get out of bed you sleepy head!” I later learned that this was from a poem Time to Rise by Robert Louis Stevenson.
I hated that yellow bird! I didn’t even appreciate my Mother’s gentleness, which was a far cry from my Father’s method – which was to (jokingly) mutter threats while dangling a glass of cold water over your head!
My Mother read to us, taught us rhymes, poems and little songs like this one:
“Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye, four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Now wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before a king? The king was in his counting house counting out his money; the queen was in the parlor eating bread and honey. The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes, when along came a blackbird and snipped off her nose!”
We learned the song easily, but then she ruined the fun by saying, “Did you know that this song is about a evil English King, Henry VIII? The Queen was his first wife Catherine of Aragon, who he divorced. The maid that got her nose snipped off by the birds was really his second wife Anne Boleyn, whose head got chopped off!” Thereby, what started as a happy little tune became a gruesome lesson. Then you’d begin to examine the words of that song…how did 24 birds survive being baked in the oven? Grown-ups never made any sense.
|Found Object Bird|
The only song my Dad ever sang to us was “Jolie Blonde”, but he was quite popular with the neighborhood kids because he could do magic tricks. This one about birds was the first one I learned.
Only he said “Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill. One named Jack and one named Jill. Fly away Jack, fly away Jill. Come back Jack, come back Jill.” I’d be ashamed to tell you how long it took me to figure out how those little pieces of paper kept reappearing!
When I was in first grade, my sister was given a green parakeet named Chiquita – pronounced CHEE KEE TA – like the banana. It’s a Spanish word meaning “little girl”. [Alas, the bird was a boy.] This bird never sang – it screeched. It never talked, despite years of us mouthing the words “Pretty bird” as it scattered seeds, shed feathers and pecked our fingers. Once, it escaped its cage and flew outside! My Dad cheered “FINALLY!”
My Uncle Calvin, who lived next door, heard us kids crying and ran outside and threw his jacket high up into the trees. When it came down, the bird was trapped underneath. He had about two seconds to feel like a hero – with us kids cheering and hugging him – and then he turned around to see my Father’s face. “Calvin, I ought to kill you.” my father sighed.
My Mother was a great fan of Emily Dickenson. One of the first poems she read to me was:
A Bird came down the Walk
He did not know I saw
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass.
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought.
He stirred his Velvet Head
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb.
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam.
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.
You could just picture a little bird hopping around -like a movie in your head – when you heard the words. I thought it was beautiful. Emily Dickenson must have been very fond of birds, for she compared them to “Hope”.
|Fabric and Buttons|
There are other birds, I am sure, that inspire such thoughts of majesty; but there are just as many that arouse laughter. Chickens, for instance.
Last night I dreamed of chickens,
there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.
They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roostin in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears.
There were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…
When I woke up today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.
When I first heard that poem, I thought of the chickens my Mother kept after she retired. When my daughter was about 4, she handed her a little fluffy baby chick and asked “What do you think we should name it?” My daughter answered, “I think I’ll call her SERENITY”. This is not a word that immediately comes to most minds when thinking of chickens! No sirree. [No sirree bob tail.]
For proof of this read Quite A Year For Plums by Bailey White
Meanwhile, keep busy turning your flotsam into some pretty birds – or into something useful for the birds!