Poem 83: When I was young and free as a bird

When I was young and free
as a bird, as the wind,
I knew every frog,
every eel, every darting fish in the stream.
I knew every wasp nest. I knew every
empty and abandoned butterfly cocoon.
I thought thoughts like a wild duck and could
walk straight to their hidden nests.
I knew the secrets of pied stilts on river beds
where they laid eggs disguised as stones.
I knew where to find peripatus resting in rotting logs.
I knew when to go get the bull to put to the cow, and
mark in the book when the calf was due.
I could milk all the cows, the whole herd of 120, all by myself;
and drive a tractor; and make hay while the sun shone.

And then I went to high school and they made me
take trigonometry. I couldn’t understand a thing. I liked
Euclidean Geometry but they dropped that from the syllabus.
They taught Shakespeare and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught Bertolt Brecht and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught T.S. Eliot and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught physics and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught chemistry and I didn’t understand a word.
They made me read Darwin and Mendel and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught Latin and I never knew what an ablative absolute was.
They made me play sports and I could never comprehend the rules.
And in between I’d go home and milk the cows.

And then I went to university and they made me
study Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Boulez and Messiaen. I couldn’t understand a thing. I liked
playing Scarlatti on the piano but they dropped that from the syllabus.
They taught John Dryden and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught Samuel Beckett and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught Teilhard de Chardin and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught how to calculate the properties of a distant star and I didn’t understand a word.
They taught Plato and Bertrand Russell and I didn’t understand a word.
They made me read Clarissa and Joseph Andrews and I didn’t understand a word.
The only thing I understood about Einstein was that he played the violin.
They made me study deoxyribonucleic acid and it tied me up in knots.
And in between I’d go home and milk the cows.

The other day someone said
have you noticed there are fewer birds about these days?
I looked and counted 24 species out my window.
I hadn’t looked for over fifty years.
I should never have stopped milking cows.
Funny how some things don’t work out.

To hear the poem read aloud click HERE.

13 thoughts on “Poem 83: When I was young and free as a bird

    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      They have peripatuses in Australia as well apparently – I suppose most people think they’re just caterpillars. If you’ve got one in your hand they can spit a sort of blue milk as far as your shoulder.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  1. umashankar

    This one is a treat to read, I am sure I will return to this poem that sums up a subaltern countryman’s life. The bits about childhood uncovered memories buried deep under the forest of mellowing synapses. Yes, I too remembered the exact bush behind which a dragonfly had vanished. I knew exactly the number of steps I had to take to the tree from which hung a giant beehive. I could remember the exact pitch of the swarm humming in unison. Thank you for rekindling such memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Thanks, Uma. It’s always a shame when we lose our sense of wonder – after a week of looking at birds out my window (I didn’t do it all the time!) I quickly learnt to identify them by their flight and hopping patterns!

      Like

      Reply
  2. Andrew

    This appeals to me immensely. You knew it would, I’m sure. I had a semi rural upbringing and loved nature. Then life got in the way. 19th century Viennese satirists haven’t helped me much in life. Now like is going full circle. I’m not quite free as a bird but happiest out in the wild with a camera. Happy days.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Thanks Andrew – as I said a week ago – to notice things about me was re-invigorated partly by your blog. My Masters thesis on English Reformation Lute Music didn’t exactly hone me in on noticing the exquisite wing patterns of a moth (although it should have…)

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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