Yesterday my husband and I were having one of those early morning “who’s got it tougher” quibbles when I happened to look out the window and spot a bird perched solo on a branch. I wanted to zap it with laser beam eyes and somehow switch places. Just hang out on a branch for awhile. Catch some rays. Flap my wings.
Because I haven’t quite mastered the art of teleporting I decided to do the next best thing which was play the sanctimonious fool. I slow cooked pork, I baked a cheesecake, I entertained children, I cleaned things. I was untouchable damn it. Inside I was crying.
I kept thinking about the Dunbar poem on why caged birds sing until I felt sufficiently shamed for comparing a poem about racism and oppression with the woes of a white, middle-class housewife.
Once my husband and I got over ourselves I told him about my little bird on a branch. He said “how do you know that bird’s got it so easy? It could be flying around all day looking for worms, trying to support a family” – and he’s right.
I just want a little space to beat my wings, sit still on a branch, feel the sun on my skin or the grass at my feet. A quiet mind without chaos or deadlines, places to be or faces to wipe. Is that so much to ask?
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals-
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting-
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings-
I know why the caged bird sings!
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)