A Robin in the Woodstove

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A Robin in the Woodstove by Laura A. Munson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all

–Emily Dickinson

March 18, 2003
I was standing in front of the television this morning, watching the footage of last night: 48 hours for Saddam and his sons to get out of Iraq…or we’re coming in…when my daughter started screaming. I ran into the kitchen. “What? What’s wrong?”
“There’s a robin stuck in the woodstove!”
“Finish your cereal or you’ll be late for school.”
“Aren’t you going to get it out of there?”
“No. It can find its way back up.”
She looked at me like she did not know me. “But they only came back just last week.”
Countdown Iraq. Fabric softening commercial. A police stand-off in Washington: some guy on a tractor swearing he has explosives. Ari Fleisher condescending to Campbell Brown— I can’t help but think: CJ, on ‘West Wing,’ is better. Breaking news: High alert: orange. No fly zone over Disneyworld. Why does that one anchorman always look like he’s smiling?
I switch to Martha Stewart. A homemade lemon honey pot: it’s a good thing. Back to CNN. I feel it is my duty to watch CNN.
The robin flutters in the ashes.
I’ve done this before. Twice. Just get a sheet and open the woodstove, hope that he flies in. But he’ll fight me. His heart will rapid-fire into my grip. I might hurt him. I might shy and let go too soon and then what will we do with a bird in the house?
He flings himself against the window of the woodstove.
“Mommy, do something!”
“He’ll be okay in there until Daddy comes home. It’s cold out today. It’s like his own private birdcage.”
Driving to school. NPR. Toni Blair calling for unity. The French saying they might be willing to help in the case of biological warfare. Kiss the kids. Get a glare from my daughter.
At the grocery store, I buy three bags of lentils. I am not necessarily a lentil person. But they keep. I run into a forest ranger friend and ask him to tell me, once and for all, why the Douglas fir is not a true fir.
“Because their cones point down. For the squirrels. Subalpine and Grand point up. For the birds.”
I put on my best Naturalist nod. I do not tell him I am holding a robin hostage in my woodstove.
“Are you going over to Freezeout Lake to see the Snow Geese migration like you always do?” he says.
I remember the 200,000 white birds I long for all winter, and forget to answer him.
When I get back, I realize I have left CNN on.
So, what do you think, Bird? Did you make a mistake? Having so much hope in us?
He flings himself into the glass, falls sideways in the ashes, then stands still in the grey cloud.
I run through the living room despite the drumming of breaking news, despite the ice cream in the bag, go to my office and shut the door.
He might die. I can’t handle it if he dies.
I go back to the kitchen, blare NPR so that it’s dueling CNN and I can’t hear anything except for drumming and British accents, and I quick, put away the groceries.
What the world needs now, is love sweet love…call your travel agent. I think it’s a cruise commercial, but I don’t look.
I make a b-line for my office again, but I catch the bird out of the corner of my eye and I see that its feathers are askew.
So I sit on the hearth: please go back up the pipe. Please.
He throws himself against the glass. He is all black. Maybe it’s a grackle, not a robin. Like that would be somehow more forgivable.
I can do this. I should do this. I can’t. I can’t hold all that hope in my hands.
With NPR and CNN booming, muffling the flutter of tiny wings, I run up to my bed. I pull up the covers. I will wait here until my husband comes home.
Maybe I am this much of a coward. Or maybe it’s that I can’t bear to watch those blackened footprints hopping off into the melting snow.

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