The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.

2.26.2008

Green Birds of Your Youth


To A Daughter with Artistic Talent

I know why, getting up in the cold dawn
you paint cold yellow houses
and silver trees. Look at those green birds,
almost real, and that lonely child looking
at those houses and trees.
You paint (the best way) without reasoning,
to see what you feel, and green birds
are what a child sees.

Some gifts are not given: you
are delivered to them,
bound by chains of nerves and genes
stronger than iron or steel, although
unseen. You have painted every day
for as long as I can remember
and you will be painting still
when you read this, some cold
and distant December when the child
is old and trees no longer silver
but black fingers scratching a grey sky.

And you never know why (I was lying
when I said I knew).
You never know the force that drives you wild
to paint that sky, that bird flying,
and is never satisfied today
but maybe tomorrow
when the sky is a surreal sea
in which you drown...

I tell you this with love and pride
and sorrow my artist child
(while the birds change from green to blue to brown).

~Peter Meinke

I love this poem, even though it ends with a sense of loss. Meinke envisions the girl growing up and losing her childlike faith and wild abandon. The fantastical green birds change to a more subdued blue, and finally to a common brown.

Why do green birds sound so outrageous? Maybe it's because those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere don't see a lot of green birds. Perhaps we picture sparrows and robins when we think of birds. But green birds exist! Some parrots are vivid shades of green. Even the more common male mallard duck has a brilliantly metallic green head. No, green birds are neither impossible nor improbable. Green birds are real. As are red, blue, and yellow birds.

So what is Meinke getting at?

All too often, the artist that lives within us fades away as we age, consumed by responsibilities, self-consciousness, and well-meaning —- as well as ill-tempered —- adults. We let fear, social propriety, and the search for perfection stand between us and our natural desire to create.

Although the poem ends with sorrow, I take it as a cautionary tale and a reminder that it doesn't have to be this way. The gift of creation -— whatever form it takes -— is an enigmatic present. It is a gift that is given to us, but also one that we are delivered to by way of our choices. Like a muscle, our creativity strengthens with use and atrophies with neglect. Creativity is like a language: the more we use it, the more we can understand and the more we can say with it. Like the ideas of faith and love, it is simultaneously an intimate and elusive entity.

What are the green birds of your youth?


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add to kirtsy | 3:41 PM

5 Comments:

Blogger MamaShift said...

Fitting words. I have my own artist daughter; I'll show her this poem. Thanks!

2/27/2008 4:14 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

One green bird of my youth was playing Rhapsody in Blue on my tape recorder and putting together a dramatic dance routine in my parents' bathroom (complete with octagonal tile floor). Then I made tickets and invited them to my show!

Imagine us, all three, in the bathroom. The tape recorder perched on the closed lid of the toilet. My parents standing by while I danced madly around, sliding here and there in my sock-covered feet!!!

(To this day whenever I hear Rhapsody in Blue I am taken back to that memory.)

Thank you for sharing this great poem. Indeed, we *must* plan some creative, artistic green bird time into our upcoming weekend. Okay?

2/27/2008 8:52 AM  
Blogger Jena Strong said...

Making chapbooks of poems for friends & family. Weaving little bracelets on my big toe and selling them on the street. Doc Martens.

2/27/2008 10:16 AM  
Blogger Lulu said...

I have a flock of green birds in a hospital aviary right now. I am nursing them back to health by giving myself permission to paint with green (or pink or orange) and dream bigger again.

Sometimes I struggle to remember that green remains on the artist's palette. I just have to choose to dip the brush in it.

2/27/2008 4:30 PM  
Blogger Jennifer/The Word Cellar said...

@Mamashift: I just checked out your blog and saw your daughter's thrilling drawings. Let's hope she always keeps the green birds of her youth!

@Lisa: What a joyful picture I have of a miniature version of you, dancing in the bathroom! And yes, we'll definitely have to create some green birds when you visit.

@Jena: Bring back the Doc Martens and chapbooks, I say. And the bracelets, for that matter. Have you taught your daughters to make them?

@Lulu: It sounds like your green birds are well on their way to recovery. Good for you!

2/27/2008 10:34 PM  

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