Failure to thrive

I think about these words often, failure to thrive.

They’re an official cause of death. As on my mother-in-law’s certificate.

But I wonder: How can living to ninety-one be considered ‘failure to thrive’?

A coal-miner’s daughter who survived the Great Depression, widowed twice with young children each time, who maintained a beautiful home and a bountiful table frequently laden and ready for the arrival of her family. A voracious reader with a passion and ear for music, a grandmother generous with her love, time, and grace, a woman of great faith in God … her decline was slow and in the last days, she called out to deceased siblings and sang the hymns of her childhood.

—It doesn’t seem like failure to thrive to me. If anybody ever thrived, she did.

Oh, I understand it’s medical terminology for geriatric deterioration, encompassing decreased appetite leading to poor nutrition, muscle weakness, dementia; the human body can only take us so far.

But failure to thrive doesn’t happen only to the elderly. Most often it’s applied to babies who don’t gain weight, who don’t grow as they should, due to a host of contributing factors.

Both ends of the spectrum, then, isn’t it, failure to thrive. Its potential can frame the beginning of one’s life, and, even if that life should be long, the end.

Which for me begs the question of all that’s in between.

In how many ways do we fail to thrive? In the course of being alive, what are the “nutrients” each individual needs to live well? Thriving in this sense goes beyond the physical to the psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual… can there be holistic balance if one part is suffering, starving? Because I’m an educator, this line of thinking brings me to “the whole child”: What is impeding growth? What “learning diet” does this individual child need? In the academic realm, nourishment for flourishment can vary widely… but at the core of being human, one non-negotiable need is each other.

Relationships fail to thrive, do they not. Suffering ensues. A point of pain ripples outward, troubling the waters, sometimes over a great expanse… being alive, successfully, involves an array of coping mechanisms, the ability to adapt. The Venus flytrap comes to mind. Stuck in nutrient-poor soil, it compensates by eating meat, the unwary flies which land in its toothy leaf-blades. The businesslike science of staying alive. Gulp.

In terms of the human, the matter of thriving—growing, growing up, growing old—involves willing interdependence. Based on… love? Conscience? Overcoming fear? When my oldest son was in his early teens, he sighed: “I do not want to grow up.” (Of course he did; he’s now a husband, a father, and his daughter is the joy of his days).

But I understood his words and shivered.

Point being that of the baby, the child, the adult, the aged and infirm, which stands most able to impact the thriving of the human ecosystem… for better, for worse… with the power to discern, decide, desire, and do for one and all?

Yeah.

That’s us.

I think about these words often, failure to thrive.

They’re an official cause of death…

Photo: Wilted. Fotologic. CC BY

******

With thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life invitation to write and to this writing community for unfailing encouragement.

Pareidolia poem

From Greek para “beside, alongside” and eidolon, “image, form, shape,” pareidolia is the misperception of a stimulus as something familiar to the observer. The brain is, after all, a pattern-seeking device… surely that is why poetry speaks to us so…

Riding in the car, zipping past
Sunlit dappling shadows cast
Through trees, racing, racing fast
A speeding journey to the last.

Above in the sky I see
That you are following after me
Swiftly sailing your airy sea
Marking my passage, tree to tree.

There in your ethereal shroud
Where silence reigns so blue, so loud
Fleeting as life, warning the proud
Face of mourning in the cloud.

*******

In celebration of Poetry Friday … for more offerings visit Whispers on the Ridge – thanks for hosting, Kiesha.

Lines on a path in the woods

September
whispers
the first hint
of autumn
with a cool breath
caressing our faces
our bare arms
and legs
in the still-warm sun.
Whispers an invitation
to walk
woodsy trails
under trees communicating
in rustling green tongues.
One leaf
already fallen
crispy and brown
cartwheels across the path.
It is longer than we realized.
One of us would push

for a more vigorous pace
but the other of us
is tired.
A restful respite
in the almost-chilly
tree-proffered shade
just short of the bridge
we didn’t know was here.
Cicadas chorus high above
a big black ant hurries past
and somewhere a bird sings
as if it is the very heart
of all things.
We’ve come this far.
We walk a few more steps
one a little ahead
one leaning on a cane

one breath at a time.
Not until
we reach the bridge
can we hear the water
talking to itself below
in a wordless trickling flow
going on and on and on.
And so we do
even though we can’t see
how much path
is left to travel
nor what lies ahead
around the bowery bend.
The bridge cannot whisper

invitation.
It only stands
offering
silent invocation.
It is enough.
We cross over.

We go on.

*******

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday invitation to write a Slice of Life and to my Spiritual Journey Thursday friends for the writing fellowship along the way. For more spiritual offerings see Karen Eastlund’s collated posts under “Finding Direction” at Karen’s Got a Blog! (Thank you, Karen, for hosting).

What’s best for children

Just a little note this evening, as the sun begins its descent, glowing its most golden as it prepares to depart … really I must remind myself that it is the Earth turning away, not the sun itself. Which of us would reach longingly toward the last of that light, trying to hold what remains of the day, until encroaching shadows break our grasp … then, the dark. How many of us welcome it, so tired, so needing the sleep, so wrapping night like a thick velvet blanket around us, letting it shelter us, entomb us, savoring the peace and stillness in it … until we turn to first light and morning once more…

I am tired.

But so, probably, are you.

Today I walked through the empty halls of school. I could hear teachers’ voices in rooms as they met with kids online or recorded lessons. I could not hear the children. Through a hallway window, I caught a glimpse of many young faces on a large screen, interacting with the teacher—a virtual music lesson.

There’s something so eerie about it all. Haunting. The hollowness of the place, the distant, disembodied voices. Dystopian is the word that comes to mind. It’s like living in some novel we’d have been assigned to read in high school. But it’s real. It’s writing itself, bringing itself to life…

In snatches of conversation my colleagues discussed the reinvention of assessment for online administration, to determine what kids need, and what makes sense, and what is best for kids…

That line will not leave me. What is best for kids.

It’s a phrase we tossed around so loosely, before. “Let’s make decisions based on what’s best for kids…” but did we always?

I fired up my laptop, went to my little corner of a Google Classroom, and waited, thinking about those words: What is best for kids. Remembered playing games with a blindfold when I was a child. And waking in the night when the power’s gone out, having to feel my way through the dark…

Within moments, however, a cheery little face appeared. Beaming at me. A little voice asking if, before we read together, I could see something made for classwork today. This child—this very young child—splits his screen and presents to me. Then he asks if we will have time, when we are done reading together, for him to show me his dog.

I am sure, just then, that I feel the Earth turning. Steadily onward. Light mixing with shadows.

What is best for children is what it always was. That they feel safe. And loved. And valued. That they get to share things that matter to them. That there’s joy in learning. That they learn to do new things, some they might have thought they couldn’t. That their teachers do the same. That their teachers work together, help each other, and honor each other for the professionals they are. We may all be apart, but we must all pull together… reaching toward each other as we reach out to the kids.

The time goes so fast. My screen goes empty, the child disappears… and comes back with his dog.

It occurs to me that all three of us are smiling…the dog with his whole wiggly body.

Today will be tomorrow soon enough.

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the opportunity to share on Slice of Life Tuesday.

The Happy Napper

Once upon a time there was a little girl with crystal-blue eyes and a mischievous grin. On a June afternoon, when she was four-and-a-half, the little girl announced to her Franna:

“I can speak Unicorn.”

Now, this came as no surprise to Franna, who knew what magical creatures children are. She also knew that any adult playing a part in a child’s life is charged with sustaining bits of the magic, for that is the secret law of how the universe works… so, just as Franna was about to ask the little girl to please teach her how to speak Unicorn, too, a commercial came on TV.

“Look!exclaimed the little girl, pointing her tiny dear finger at the screen. “Happy Nappers!”

“Ah,” said Franna, nodding sagely.Those are … sleeping bags in the shape of animals? First they are pillows, and … you unsnap them to turn them into sleeping bags, then turn them back into pillows when you are done resting?”

“Yes,” answered the little girl in an imperious voice, her eyes glued to the images.

“How magical,” said Franna, scratching her head. She was on the verge of requesting Unicorn language lessons once again when the little girl drew herself up to her full height of forty-five inches and uttered the magic words:

“I. Wish. I. Had. One.”

She added a barely perceptible sigh—exactly the thing that sets the spell in motion.

Franna had no choice then, for it was the same spell she cast on her own grandfather when she was five, long, long ago. She wished for red rubber boots. The next time she came to see him, there they were, waiting for her. After all these years, Franna could still see his smile, could feel the rush of joy…

There was only one thing to do.

“Well, which Happy Napper do you like?” asked Franna.

“The pink unicorn,” announced the little girl.

Franna whipped out her handy smartphone to order the pink unicorn and … “Oh dear.”

“What is it?” asked the little girl.

I am trying to order the pink unicorn Happy Napper but it’s not available right now. This is called ‘on backorder.’ It means you have to wait a lot more days for it to get here…”

“Oh,” said the little girl, but not in a crestfallen way. She shrugged. “It will still come, right?”

“Yes, but some of the other Happy Nappers are ready to ship now. Like the white unicorn, if you want it instead …”

The little girl shook her head. “The pink one.”

So that was that. Franna ordered the pink unicorn Happy Napper which would take a month—an eternity!—to ship. And, quite unwittingly, she made a grave, grave error: She told the little girl that the pink unicorn shipping date was July 22.

On the morning of July 22, Franna’s son phoned to say: “Guess who woke up singing ‘Today is Happy Napper Day, Happy Napper Daaaay…'”

“Oh no!” cried Franna. “Today is just the SHIPPING day! And I haven’t had any updates!”

“I see …” said Franna’s son, and she did not envy him one bit, having to tell the little girl the Happy Napper really wasn’t due to materialize on that precise day.

And then… things got worse. Much worse. The unthinkable occurred.

A dreadful email arrived:

“Hello! We apologize, but due to overwhelming demand, your order is still on backorder … we expect additional inventory soon… you have the option to modify your order to a different character if you like…”

Feeling weary to her bones, and utterly unmagical, Franna called the little girl to explain: “Your pink unicorn Happy Napper is still backordered. It is not on the way yet. You can still change to a different animal …”

“Why is it taking so long?”

“Well, I guess the pink unicorn is really special and lots of kids wanted it. The Happy Napper people ran out of them and are having to make new ones. Supplies might be hard to get right now because of the coronavirus…”

And the little girl understood. Coronavirus meant she would not go back to preschool, not ever. Coronavirus kept her away from her friends. Coronavirus was a plague, a powerful enchantment that couldn’t be broken, only waited out. Tiny viruses topple mighty kingdoms…

Franna felt terribly sad and vowed not to mention the Happy Napper again.

The Happy Napper people must have known, for they sent Franna an e-book, which was some consolation, as the next most magical thing to a child is a book…and this one contained unicorns…

Then, one afternoon in late August, a mint-green box was delivered to Franna’s porch. She brought into the house and put it on the piano bench to await the coming of the little girl…

Several days later, here she came, strolling into Franna’s house with a joyous smile of greeting… when her crystal-blue eyes landed on the mint-green box…

It just so happened that the little girl could read quite well…

Those words on the box…

Her blue eyes widened. All the light in the universe converged there on her little face and shone forth as only this sacred magic can. She gasped:

“THE HAPPY NAPPER? It’s HERE??”

And so it was.

They opened the box, pulled out the silky-soft hot pink unicorn, and stretched it to its full blinding-rainbow length on the floor, whereupon the little girl climbed right in and made Franna zip it up to her chinny-chin-chin. The pink unicorn fit the little girl just right. The long wait was finally over, at last. And so Franna and the beloved little girl and her pink unicorn lived—can’t you guess?—happily nappily ever after.

One happy napper.

Once upon a time, Franna wished for a little girl.

*******

Magic moments of childhood never die: Here’s the story of the red rubber boots.

Hold on loosely

Grab hold

Grab hold! Jannes PockeleCC BY

Just hold on loosely,
but don’t let go
If you cling too tightly
you’re gonna lose control. 

—38 Special/D. Barnes, J. Carlisi, J. Peterik

The draft of this post has been sitting here a long time, gathering cobwebs, while I considered how to write it. The idea began with seeing connections between teaching, instructional coaching, parenting…with those cautionary lyrics, above, coming to mind: “If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”

That’s the problem with many relationships, isn’t it. Control. As in, who‘s trying to assert it? By holding too tightly? By force? What are the consequences? Why do I think of Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun trying to prove who was stronger by making the Traveler remove his cloak? What does this imply about human nature?

And not just human nature…that little green vine in the photo, above…it has goals, doesn’t it? To keep growing, climbing, gaining strength daily…soon the difference between “holding on loosely” and “clinging too tightly” will be evident in the absolute destruction it will wreak. It cannot know the cost to whatever tree, gate, house, other plants, anything it overtakes.

How did I land here, when I began with thinking on connective threads of teaching, coaching, parenting? Where will my metaphorical thinking take me next? What philosophical point am I trying to make?

Is this out of control now? How DO I write this persistent…thing?

When at a loss to say what can hardly be said, there’s always poetry. Maybe that’s what this idea wants to be…

Each poem is a metaphor, a philosophy, a journey of its own. This one, like life, goes fast. The form is designed for that. Sylvia Plath said that once a poem is written, interpretation belongs to the reader. Read it just to read, then maybe reread to decide for yourself if you see threads of teaching, coaching, parenting…and more. With poetry, there’s always more.

So here’s where the poem took me. I landed in a blitz: “Hold On Loosely.”

Have only today
Have and to hold
Hold my hand
Hold it dear
Dear one
Dear children
Children laughing
Children leaving home
Home is wherever YOU are
Home place
Place of remembering
Place in the sun
Sun rising in the east
Sun dappling the grass
Grass rippling in the breeze
Grass withering, fading
Fading light
Fading fast
Fast go the hours
Fast and furious
Furious argument
Furious storms
Storms wreaking havoc
Storms passing
Passing over
Passing by
By the way
By getting to work
Work it out
Work hard
Hard to handle
Hard to reach
Reach anyway
Reach out
Out of time
Out of breath
Breath of fresh air
Breath of life
Life is short
Life is precious
Precious moments
Precious faces
Faces in photographs
Faces tugging at heartstrings
Heartstrings reverberating at final words
Heartstrings tied loosely
Loosely hold on
Loosely, not letting go.
go…
on…

What threads did you see?

Oh, and writer-friends…maybe reread one last time to see how the blitz might describe a relationship with writing.

Having shaken off the cobwebs, I go on…

On community

The recent blog series by Two Writing Teachers, Seen, Valued, Heard: Writing to Establish Community, brought to mind a piece I wrote on community two years ago—long before the current pandemic, the transition to remote learning, and our vastly-intensified struggle for social justice. We are all reminded, many times over, that for a communityever how large, small, or microcosmicto flourish, it is imperative that every member sees, values, and hears one another.

What IS community, really? So much more than we tend to think. Philosopher David Spangler wrote: Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.” The words of priest Henri Nouwen: “Community is first of all a quality of the heart the question, therefore, is not ‘How can we make community?’ but, ‘How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?‘” And this line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who died in a concentration camp, strikes me deeply: “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them.”

As an educator, as a human being, I continue to reflect on “community.” Here’s my composition from 2018, followed by a double acrostic composed this morning.

When I think of the word community, I first envision a neighborhood where people are bound to one another by a sense of civic responsibility. A grouping of people or houses does not a community make; a true community develops from like-mindedness about the good of the whole. Protecting one another, helping one another in times of need, maybe beautifying the area . . . on a deeper level, think of these variations of community: Commune, communion. These words have a spiritual color to them. They imply an even greater like-mindedness and focus. Definitions of the verb commune include a passionate, intense, or intimate discussion, the exchange of thoughts and feelings; to commune, or for there to be communion, people gather together out of a desire to share, tap into, or celebrate something profoundly meaningful to all. Such a rapport implies that partakers are there not just to get but to give.

So it is for a community of writers. A grouping of people with pencils, papers, and laptops, within the classroom or without, does not a community of writers make. To write is to put pieces of one’s soul on a page; this, in the scheme of human undertakings, is an unparalleled act of courage. A writing community, then, is a gathering of the courageous in a place where it is safe to share the pieces of one’s soul on the collective pages, with the responsibility to hear, value, and honor one another, and even to help each other beautify the arrangement of words for greatest effect. The writing community is vital to the writer, for, ever how old or young, writers sharpen one another, encourage one another, celebrate one another, and grow together in an atmosphere of commitment, accountability, expectancy, sometimes breathless awe, and glorious release.

Above all, let us not fail to see that hidden word in “community”: unity.

Connected by the arc
Of our humanity, we are more than able to
Make one from
Many, to create a vital spectrum
Upholding both me and you.
Numinous, luminous, an
Iridescent inscribing of graffiti
To us, from us, in ink of heart-bent light
You and I define our sky.

The view of my neighborhood, taken from my driveway last week, between thunderstorms.

The portal

Written for Spiritual Journey Thursday.

As COVID restrictions finally began to lift, my husband and I ventured out to a nice restaurant for lunch. We practically had the place to ourselves. Afterward, as the day was bright and breezy, we decided to walk along the outdoor mall’s trendy shops and boutiques. The sidewalks, normally crowded, were empty, perfect for a promenade… I almost felt as if I should be holding a parasol and that my husband should be wearing a striped jacket, a straw hat, and carrying an ornamental cane…on and on we strolled, aimlessly, just drinking in the glorious early-summer afternoon, temperate and rare.

“Let’s cross over here,” said my husband, grasping my hand, when I looked up to see…

on an otherwise blank, unremarkable wall…

a magical door.

“Oooh! Wait!” I said, dropping my husband’s hand to take a picture: I must write about this…

A painted portal. With light fixtures on either side to illuminate it at night. Even though it isn’t really a door.

—Or is it?

It seems straight out of a fantasy novel: A door to another world, a conspicuous portkey, an enchanted painting like that of the Narnian ship Dawn Treader hanging on a bedroom wall, coming to life as Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy rushed at it and fell through into the ocean…

Standing there on the vacant sidewalk, on that bright, ethereal afternoon so strangely devoid of other people, I could almost believe the portal was real, that it led to… something beyond.

I recognized the depiction, of course—a modified version of one of the best-known works of art in the world. Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. He painted it in his asylum room. It’s the view from his window, facing east, before the sunrise. He would write to his brother that “the morning star was very large.” The scene is dark. It is blue. At the time, van Gogh’s mind was dark and blue; he was a deeply religious man who’d suffered much mental and emotional pain, who’d sacrificed for his art to his own detriment, though most others found little value in his paintings until after his suicide. The full scope of the village can’t be seen here in the portal on the wall, and it wasn’t a village that van Gogh saw as he painted the original; it was in his mind. Those are cypress trees dominating the foreground—funerary trees, symbols of mourning.

I thought: Is this a portal I’d want to pass through? A place where I really want to find myself?

But then… my husband and I had just come out of a dark place. The COVID stay-at-home order. Shadowy, uncertain days swirling with horror and mourning as the worldwide death toll spiked. Refrigerated trucks needed for storing corpses, images of caskets lined up for burial… which of us ever expected to find ourselves here? Public places closed for the sake of public health, at last re-opening, tentatively, with social distancing requirements… we were still (and still are, even now) unable to return to church where my husband pastors…

—The church. Note how large it is, there in the mysterious doorway. Much larger in proportion to the one van Gogh actually painted. He wanted to be a pastor. He failed the exams. He became a missionary, gave up his own comfort on behalf of the impoverished congregation, and slid deeper into psychosis and poverty.

This artwork hits me anew with its unique, transformative force… for that is what art does. It speaks to the spirit. Van Gogh didn’t paint what he saw; he painted his interpretation of it. The tormented man looked through the asylum window and focused on the stars. A hundred and thirty-one years later I stand on a sidewalk before a quasi-reproduction of his famous work, looking at the enlarged church, with the words of C.S. Lewis echoing in my mind: “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

A spiritual portal, leading to something beyond.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (MOMA). Photo: Wouter de Bruijn, 2014. CC BY-NC-SA.

*******

Much gratitude to Margaret Simon for hosting Spiritual Journey Thursday for August on her blog, Reflections on the Teche. Margaret said: “My topic is spiritual art. I often find that art speaks to me in a spiritual way, like poetry.” Sparked by this challenge. my thoughts went straight to the portal, this painting, and van Gogh. Visit Margaret’s post, “Art for the Soul,” for more odysseys.

The C.S. Lewis quote is from The Weight of Glory, a wartime sermon first published in 1941. The title is derived from 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

The steering wheel

This is not the post I might have written today.

Woke in the wee hours to total darkness, power loss, Hurricane Isaias smacking the house, tearing at the roof. Isaias is purely physical. He has no voice, unlike the ghost-wind that moaned and mourned for weeks under our eaves with the advent of spring and COVID-19.

Yet somewhere in the darkness, despite the raging gusts, little frogs kept up a cheery chorus.

Not much to do but stay in bed and wait it out.

And fall back asleep. And dream…

I am driving a car that belongs to my father, I think. Except that it doesn’t look like any car he ever owned. Nice little SUV, dark gray. I am coming home from visiting my grandparents in the country. I reach the quaint part of the city where they lived when I was little, before my grandfather retired. I’ve always loved this place… but I realize just now that I can’t turn the car. The steering wheel is gone. How have I managed to come so far without it? The car begins to spin and slide; I’ve lost control of it, I fear it’s going to be hit, but somehow I get it to a safe parking spot by a curb. I will have to backtrack and find that missing steering wheel—how could I have lost it? How is that even possible?

I go (on foot? in the same steerless car?) all the way back to my grandparents’ home. They’re out in the yard, very busy loading and unloading big objects (equipment? furniture?) on some kind of truck. Grandma’s face is serious. She doesn’t have time to talk to me [should have been a major clue that I was dreaming, as this never happened in reality]. When I tell her why I’m back she just says the steering wheel is over there (she points) in the road. Seems I lost it on the very start of my journey home…

I go to reclaim the steering wheel only discover two things: This is a rather large steering mechanism but the actual wheel isn’t there… and the little old road is freshly-tarred and paved. It’s never been paved. It’s supposed to be gravel. Sure, it looks nice, stretching out smooth and black, but why would anyone pave these tiny, meandering back roads where so few people live? This is a lot of work and expense that isn’t really ‘better’, I say to myself. With mounting sadness, I run a short dash on this new pavement to see that my grandmother’s home placea small, white house with a porch and a tin roof, where Grandma and her seven siblings were born over a hundred years ago—is gone. An expanse of green grass is all there is to see…

And then I wake.

Loving symbolism as I do, I know the dream connects to having little or no control in life. We’re living through a pandemic. A hurricane rages. I work in a school and the return next week will be drastically different. Life plows on despite the loss of the familiar. Nothing looks or feels or works quite like it used to. We travel a strange road interspersed with shadows of the real and surreal. The world, and our existence, have been altered in myriad ways. But… to be without power is not the same as being powerless…

As I write, Isaias has moved on. There is no damage here, no trace of him whatsoever now. I could revel in this glorious day, the azure sky with occasional cottony clouds drifting by, the unidentifiable bird with long wings soaring high, cicadas resuming their buzzing in the still-standing trees from which they were not shaken…that sound being one that connects me more than anything to safety and my grandparents’ home in the eastern North Carolina countryside. I could employ here my one word for the year, reclamation… reclaiming the day, reclaiming life, even my strange dream-attempt at reclaiming that lost steering wheel in a vehicle that wasn’t mine…

But the power came back on and the TV is full of destruction in the northeastern regions of my state. Homes destroyed by tornadoes spawned by Isaias. People dead and missing (some were children, who’ve since been accounted for).

And I think instead that the road to reclamation is so hard, so strange, so littered with precious, scattered fragments of life, obstructed by such mountains to move. We can control so little.

When we find we are unable to steer, perhaps that is when we are being driven most toward one another. Reclamation, then, lies in our responsiveness. In our willingness.

So does, perhaps, our redemption.

Photo: The road back to Stevenage. Peter O’Connor. CC BY-SA

The fledgling

Simply walking down the street
found a fledgling at my feet.
Tiny baby on the hot asphalt
from where’d you fall? By whose fault?
What left you in the middle
of my street
wobbling on your new, new feet?
Yellow beak wide in a silent cry
flailing wings so small to fly.
Should I touch you?
Dare I try?
Baby bird, what can I do
to keep harm from befalling you?
How long could you last
if I just walk past?
Wait—I think I’m hearing
—yes, your mother nearing
and your father, too,
—they’re both here, calling you.
They won’t come very near

as long as I am here.
How wretched it is to back away
my wrenched heart will break—it may
—but from back here I see them land
see you hop-hop toward them, and
—you’re not too steady
—don’t know if you’re ready.
But to think I know more than a bird
about what’s best for birds, is absurd.
So I turn and walk, fighting my fears,
fighting my instincts, fighting my tears
—it’s a hard, hard thing, just walking on
praying, Baby, you’re soon up and gon
e.


*****

I have seldom felt so helpless or torn as I did on encountering this baby bird one late afternoon. Although tall trees line the street (a quiet cul-de-sac), I couldn’t possibly guess which one held the nest, if I could even reach it, for returning the bird. I thought about my Aunt Jack, who found a baby blue jay when I was very little; she took the foundling home and raised it to adulthood (he was never caged, had free rein in her house, and here’s a post if you’d like to read about him: Kilroy). I wondered: Should I take my fledgling (I think it’s a finch) home, too? Could I raise it? Or would I be tempting fate, tampering with nature when nature knows far better than I about taking care of itself? How long had the baby been struggling here on the road when I (heaven help me) nearly stepped on it as it flailed? Should I scoop it up carefully and put it by the side of the road in the grass… where there are cats… and snakes… then, the frantic parents showed: Which side did THEY want their baby on?

I walked back and forth a while, not too close to the scene, until the parents and their baby were gone. Where, I do not know. I didn’t see. Seems I could hear their voices somewhere in the lush pines… all I know is that, after a bit, there was no trace of birds on the street any more.

Yet I remained distressed. I had done nothing to help the baby bird. It was so tiny, so frail. Was it really so helpless? Was I? Had I been wrong? I had to face the truth, even it if it was ugly… so, later on my phone, I searched things like What to do if I find a baby bird and Should I touch a baby bird? National Geographic had an interesting take: “It depends on how cute it is.” Meaning that a mostly featherless pink baby bird not capable of hopping or flitting is a nestling and should be returned to the nest. A fledgling has feathers, can hop, and is “generally adorable and fluffy with a tiny stub of a tail.” National Geographic (bless them) says “It’s not a good idea to put a fledgling back in the nest—it will hop right back out.”

I can rest a little easier. I guess. I do marvel at the parents both coming to rescue their baby, both of them chirping and hopping, looking back to see if the baby was, too. Which it was, in its zig-zaggy way.

—They better be giving that baby some quality flying lessons now.

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Special thanks to Catherine Flynn who’s hosting Poetry Friday Roundup at Reading to the Core. Drop by to check out her wonderful post and the many other poetic offerings.