I spent the morning sitting in a sunny spot watching birds at my feeder. Hence this poem. Reading it again now after many years, weepy, remembering being so moved even as a 20 year old kid whose main worry was where the keg at. Before sickness and aging elders became my wheelhouse. I can draw a straight line between this poem and my life as a nurse. I got there, eventually.

Letters from a Father
Mona Van Duyn, 1921 – 2004

I

Ulcerated tooth keeps me awake, there is

such pain, would have to go to the hospital to have

it pulled or would bleed to death from the blood thinners,

but can’t leave Mother, she falls and forgets her salve

and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels

are so bad, she almost had a stoppage and sometimes

what she passes is green as grass.  There are big holes

in my thigh where my leg brace buckles the size of dimes.

My head pounds from the high pressure.  It is awful

not to be able to get out, and I fell in the bathroom

and the girl could hardly get me up at all.

Sure thought my back was broken, it will be next time.

Prostate is bad and heart has given out,

feel bloated after supper. Have made my peace

because am just plain done for and have no doubt

that the Lord will come any day with my release.

You say you enjoy your feeder, I don’t see why

you want to spend good money on grain for birds

and you say you have a hundred sparrows, I’d buy

poison and get rid of their diseases and turds.

II

We enjoyed your visit, it was nice of you to bring

the feeder but a terrible waste of your money

for that big bag of feed since we won’t be living

more than a few weeks long.  We can see

them good from where we sit, big ones and little ones

but you know when I farmed I used to like to hunt

and we had many a good meal from pigeons

and quail and pheasant but these birds won’t

be good for nothing and are dirty to have so near

the house.  Mother likes the redbirds though.

My bad knee is so sore and I can’t hardly hear

and Mother says she is hoarse from yelling but I know

it’s too late for a hearing aid.  I belch up all the time

and have a sour mouth and of course with my heart

it’s no use to go to a doctor.  Mother is the same.

Has a scab she thinks is going to turn to a wart.

III

The birds are eating and fighting, Ha! Ha!  All shapes

and colors and sizes coming out of our woods

but we don’t know what they are.  Your Mother hopes

you can send us a kind of book that tells about birds.

There is one the folks called snowbirds, they eat on the ground,

we had the girl sprinkle extra there, but say,

they eat something awful.  I sent the girl to town

to buy some more feed, she had to go anyway.

IV

Almost called you on the telephone

but it costs so much to call thought better write.

Say, the funniest thing is happening, one

day we had so many birds and they fight

and get excited at their feed you know

and it’s really something to watch and two or three

flew right at us and crashed into our window

and bang, poor little things knocked themselves silly.

They come to after while on the ground and flew away.

And they been doing that.  We felt awful

and didn’t know what to do but the other day

a lady from our Church drove out to call

and a little bird knocked itself out while she sat

and she bought it in her hands right into the house,

it looked like dead.  It had a kind of hat

of feathers sticking up on its head, kind of rose

or pinky color, don’t know what it was,

and I petted it and it come to life right there

in her hands and she took it out and it flew.  She says

they think the window is the sky on a fair

day, she feeds birds too but hasn’t got

so many.  She says to hang strips of aluminum foil

in the window so we’ll do that.  She raved about

our birds.  P.S. The book just come in the mail.

V

Say, that book is sure good, I study

in it every day and enjoy our birds.

Some of them I can’t identify

for sure, I guess they’re females, the Latin words

I just skip over.  Bet you’d never guess

the sparrow I’ve got here, House Sparrow you wrote,

but I have Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows,

Pine Woods and Tree and Chipping and White Throat

and White Crowned Sparrows.  I have six Cardinals,

three pairs, they come at early morning and night,

the males at the feeder and on the ground the females.

Juncos, maybe 25, they fight

for the ground, that’s what they used to call snowbirds.  I miss

the Bluebirds since the weather warmed. Their breast

is the color of a good ripe muskmelon.  Tufted Titmouse

is sort of blue with a little tiny crest.

And I have Flicker and Red-Bellied and Red-

Headed Woodpeckers, you would die laughing

to see Red-Bellied, he hangs on with his head

flat on the board, his tail braced up under,

wing out.  And Dickcissel and Ruby Crowned Kinglet

and Nuthatch stands on his head and Veery on top

the color of a bird dog and Hermit Thrush with spot

on breast, Blue Jay so funny, he will hop

right on the backs of the other birds to get the grain.

We bought some sunflower seeds just for him.

And Purple Finch I bet you never seen,

color of a watermelon, sits on the rim

of the feeder with his streaky wife, and the squirrels,

you know, they are cute too, they sit tall

and eat with their little hands, they eat bucketfuls.

I pulled my own tooth, it didn’t bleed at all.

VI

It’s sure a surprise how well Mother is doing,

she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine.

Now that windows are open she says our birds sing

all day.  The girl took a Book of Knowledge on loan

from the library and I am reading up

on the habits of birds, did you know some males have three

wives, some migrate some don’t.  I am going to keep

feeding all spring, maybe summer, you can see

they expect it.  Will need thistle seed for Goldfinch and Pine

Siskin next winter.  Some folks are going to come see us

from Church, some bird watchers, pretty soon.

They have birds in town but nothing to equal this.

So the world woos its children back for an evening kiss.

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