My Dad and The Oven Bird

by gillis

My dad is in the VA hospital after having another small stroke. I saw him several weeks ago after he had recovered from pneumonia and acute renal failure, which is apparently less scary than it sounds. He seemed to be improving, gaining strength, but last week he had this setback which was eventually diagnosed at a stroke.

It’s hard to see him faltering this way.

I know that this is not a unique situation, that if we all live long enough, and our folks also live long enough, we will all go through this. It’s still painful to witness it.

My father is a complicated figure. Until very recently, he drank a lot more than he should have and spent less time with his family than he could have. He was always very generous and charming in public, at home there were many times when he was stingy with his attention, affection, and interest. He was a smooth and graceful dancer and the dance floor was the one place where he and my mother could always connect until the two of them became unable. He was also a beautiful singer and some of my fondest memories of him are those that involve listening to him sing or singing and dancing with him at functions. I’m not sure what the future holds for my father, I can only hope that he does not suffer the equivalent of a death from a thousand paper cuts.

Thinking about his situation, I’m reminded of the Robert Frost poem The Oven Bird, with its references to singing and the questions about the value of diminished things. I am often amazed at how writers can express things for the rest of us, how we can still find solace in their work long after the writer is gone. So much power.

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would sing and be as other birds,
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
is what to make of a diminished thing.