Friday, November 8, 2013

Bird Poem

When I was 12, my dad recited me a poem that he said he’d written himself.  It went a little something like this:

Pretty little bird
With the pretty little bill
Perched upon my windowsill  [I remember that this line came with a little self-important head-shake and a slight British accent on the word “perched,” even though he grew up in Boston]
I coaxed him in
With crusts of bread
And then I crushed his fcking head

I suppose my dad knew, even at that early-ish age, that I would grow up and share his irreverent sense of humor.  What he probably had not bargained on, though, was that mine would be much worse, causing him, many days, to shake his head in sadness and ponder aloud what the hell he’d done wrong.

Um, I don’t know, Dad…perhaps reciting silly poems about decapitating sweet birds was the first misstep?

Anyhoo, that’s all beside the point.  What I’m wondering is, did that poem sound familiar to you?

Well, it should have.

That lying bastard hadn’t counted on a little thing called the internet becoming so popular or that poem—by Author Unknown—to circulate so widely.

That’s right, folks.  I’d been completely in awe of my dad’s literary composition prowess for 6 years, until a little click of a button to open that fateful forwarded poem brought everything I’d believed about his skillz crashing down around me.

The older I got and the more wisdom I attained, the more I began to understand that there were a few times that Dad had told little white lies—but, different from the bird poem joke he’d pulled on me, these other little lies were of the sweet variety that all parents use to protect their kids.

For example, I remember once when I was about 8 years old.  It was the middle of the night, and I had woken from an awful, terrifying dream about a spider crawling onto my bed and biting me.  I shook my entire body to rid it from the spider that I knew had only existed in my dream…but still…and ran—sweating, still feeling that little mofo’s invisible hairy legs crawling all over me—into my mom and dad’s room.

“Dad.  Dad!” I whispered loudly, tapping him on the shoulder and letting my tears fall freely.

He rolled over, bleary-eyed.  “What’s wrong, hon?”

I had to catch my breath between sobs.  “I…I had a dream…a spider…it crawled onto my bed and then bit me!”  Here, I lost it.  I cried so hard that he had to sit up in bed and grasp me by the shoulders so I could hear him.

“Shay…shhh, honey.  It’s okay, Shay.  It’s alright.  You see, spiders don’t crawl on beds.  They don’t like the feel of the cotton sheets on their legs.”

I stopped crying immediately.  “Really?” I asked.

“Really,” my dad said, lying back down.  “Now go get some sleep.”

I swear I danced back to my room, reveling in my newfound knowledge.  I remember hopping back onto my bed and then looking toward the floor and sticking my tongue out at any spiders that might be crawling around down there, wanting a piece of me. 

Stupid little assholes, I remember thinking.  How do you like these cotton sheets?

Fast forward 10 years.  It was my freshman year in college, mid-semester.  My new best friend Leigh and I were in my dorm room, chatting.  We had hit it off almost immediately because we’d come from very similar backgrounds, but there was still so much to learn about each other. 

My roommate was gone, so Leigh was spending the night in my dorm.  We’d managed to find a dorky 21-year-old to buy us some beer and had snuck it into my room.  We’d ordered pizza, too, so we were all set for a late night of girl talk.

The talk turned serious, as it will after 25 beers.  We started talking fears.

“I used to be scared of spiders,” I said.  “But now if I see one, I just jump onto a bed and I know that I’m safe.  And I don’t even worry if there’s not a bed around, because I started carrying a little piece of cotton sheet with me everywhere I go, just in case…”  Here, I pulled a square of cotton from my pocket and unfolded it.

Leigh furrowed her brow and paused, a slice of pizza midway to her mouth.  “What will a square of cotton do?” she asked, clearly very confused.

“Oh, don’t you know?”  I got all excited because Leigh was the worldlier of the two of us, always teaching me things.  Now I had the opportunity to teach her something.  “Spiders don’t like the feel of cotton sheets on their legs.  That’s why they don’t crawl on beds.”

I remember the look on her face as if it were yesterday.  It could’ve been very easily described as a look of wide-eyed disbelief in the dumbass sitting across from her. 

Perhaps she was angry at herself for choosing wrongly, as the girl from the end of the hall who loudly hocked early-morning loogies while she thought the rest of us were still sleeping was suddenly starting to look like a better option for a new best friend.

Finally, Leigh’s disbelieving shock wore off.  “What the fck is wrong with you?” she asked when she could speak again.

“What?” I replied, shrugging my shoulders while innocently chewing a bite of pizza.

“You really don’t know…” I watched her whisper, more to herself than to me.  Then she looked me straight in the eye.  “Dude.  Spiders absolutely crawl on sheets.  Your little square of cotton will do nothing for you.”  She paused, flicking the cotton out of my hand.  “How long have you been carrying that thing around, by the way?”

“Like 10 years?” I said quietly, but I couldn’t concentrate on the conversation anymore.  My whole body had grown cold and I’d started to tremble. 

Spiders could crawl on beds??

I put my piece of pizza down; I’d lost my appetite.  “But my dad told me…” I whispered, still holding onto the belief that if I were standing on a square of cotton in the middle of a room full of tarantulas, I’d be totally safe…

Suddenly, words from the fateful bird poem started popping off of the computer screen of my memories, flashing before my eyes, taunting me.

My dad had lied about the spiders, just as he had about the poem.  But this time, it was to protect me, so how could I be upset with him?

No.  No, I wasn’t upset with my dad.  This time, my anger was directed toward my new best friend.

Because what an asshole for shattering the illusion for me.

I still blame her for my sleepless nights.


  1. My dad told me the same poem! But he didn't pass it off as his own. That is just too adorable that you carried a piece of sheet around with you for years. Much less bulky than the turquoise rabbit's foot that I was convinced would keep me safe - not just from spiders, but from everything bad. I wouldn't have shattered your illusion, Shay. A girl needs to believe in something.

  2. What a horrible friend. I hate people who do things like and say things like "YES those pants make you look fat." Jerks.
    I like your dad, he sounds like a solid guy. My dad's poems all involved bodily functions, i.e. "I boogeyed in the bedroom, I boogeyed in the hall, I boogeyed on my finger and I wiped it on the wall." You don't even want to hear the songs about gas.
    Great post.

    1. But she is actually really awesome, and don't worry, I give as well as I get. You should hear some of the conversations we have; people can't believe we're best friends. They'll say, "Oh, you two actually have NAMES? Listening to you talk to each other, I thought you were Slut and she was Whore, b/c that's what you've called each other all night." Gotta love her. And your dad sounds awesome, too!!

    2. Well, that's good. I'm all for dishing it out if you can take it!

    3. Totally! It's how I choose my friends...the more sarcastic and assholey they are, the more I like them. What does that say about me?? Haha

  3. I love the "self important head shake and slight British accent". Haha! Guess you can't read a poem like that without the slight Brit accent. Always sounds so much more regal that way. If I read my boys a poem like that they'd think I was awesome as hell. Your dad cracks me up Shay!

    1. This was my exact reaction and comment...Linda stole my thunder.

      I like your dad

    2. He's the best. And he never gets mad at me for writing about him...I think he likes the attention. He hated when I had to go anonymous b/c I used to get to post pictures of him, and then people from where I live would love when he came into town and they'd always stop by to see him. He felt like a mini-celebrity. Haha

  4. Yeah, what a dick for sure. Shattering your illusions like that. sheesh! My mom told me that capers were fish eggs. I got in real-life arguments about it until some jerk made me look it up online. The thing is? I'll bet she thought that they were fish eggs! I love that you carried a little sheet around for years and years. I have a special coin that is used as a magical amulet that is in my pocket. To ward off eveeeel.
    Also? Your dad rocks! Telling you that spiders don't like the feel of cotton on their legs? GENIUS!!

    1. That is a hilarious story--and you're right, sometimes it's not our mom and dad's faults...they just don't know any better. In this case, he did, but I know it was the only way to get me back to sleep that night, so I forgive him. Haha

  5. Haha. Love your dad. Those illusions have to shatter sometime. I remember believing elephants could really fly because of Dumbo for way longer than I should have. No one shattered my illusion. It just one day hit me: Elephants. Flying. Uh-uh. My dad's favorite poem, though he never passed it along as his...
    In days of old, when nights were bold and toilets weren't invented.
    You could drop your load in the middle of the road and go away contented.
    Thanks, Dad!

    1. I love that!! Our dads are brilliant, aren't they? :)

  6. Great post. Love the poem. Funny how you can say something to a kid and it will stay with them so long...

    1. I swear I have a memory like an elephant. I remember everything...well, except important things like algebraic equations and shit like that. :)

  7. My dad was pretty poetic, too.

    Here we sit, broken hearted,
    Came to shit, and only farted.

    Like your dad, he stole that beauty, and like you, I thought he wrote it himself.

  8. Hahahaha! I swear I'm laughing with you and not at you.
    Oh, you're not laughing?

    Want to hear a poem my dad taught me? One that I recited on the first day of kindergarten...
    Little Miss Muffet
    Sat on her tuffet
    Eating her curds & whey
    Along came a spider
    And sat down beside her
    And said "Give me your bowl, bitch!"

    They called home.

    1. "They called home." HAHAHAHHAHHAAAA!! I can so imagine you reciting that on the first day!

  9. Shay, this is a brilliant post! I love your dad and I will never think of my cotton sheets in the same way again. You know they mostly don't bite...

    1. Lisa--thank you so much! And no, I know no such thing...they still scare the hell out of me--especially now that I know they can crawl on cotton sheets! Do you think I should go get some satin ones? ;)

    2. Only if they are pink satin with lace to trap the little creepers.

  10. Wonderful Post Shay! Really makes me miss my dad tho.... :/... I will share one of his,

    A Wonderful bird is the Pelican
    It's beak can hold more than its belly can
    But I don't see how the hell it can!

    I love you Daddy!

    Your daddy sounds pretty awesome too....
    Anonymous J

    1. Aw, thanks for sharing. Too sweet!

    2. OH I remembered another!

      There once was a man from Kalcutta
      Who talked with a terrible stutta
      He screwed up his face
      When he tried to say grace
      and spit his false teeth in the butta!

      You have given me more warm fuzzy feeling by writing this than you know.

      Anonymous J

  11. I can't decide. But I think I feel bad for you. I had a college roommate from Keokuk Iowa, I would have maybe thought she might say something ridiculous like that. But I think I would have been much nicer about it because I would have the foresight to know how freaking awesome you were gonna be when you grew up.
    And that is my nonsensical comment for the day.