Monday, January 23, 2012

Counting fingers and blackbirds

Love of numbers is common in childhood -- and traditional nursery rhymes offer chances to know numbers as playmates and friends.  "Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie . . . The king was in his counting house . . ." and so on.  In "The Story of the Ten Blackbirds" poet Millicent Accardi combines a portrait of an amazing story-telling aunt with a collage of childhood memories, counted and remembered.

   The Story of the Ten Blackbirds     by Millicent Borges Accardi

   Blended at times into
   The three little pigs
   Or the Catholic Saints.

   Aunt Flossie ripped
   Pieces of newspaper
   Or envelopes into ten

   Roundish pieces
   Three of her fingers were lost
   Partially in an accident

   To the cotton mills of
   French Canada when she
   Was a child

   The index, cut at the nail
   The thumb in half,
   And her first lost at the joint.

   She licked each piece
   Of paper and attached
   Them dampened to

   The whole and the partial
   Digits.  This little blackbird
   She said, went to market

   As she whirled her hands
   In the air then quickly behind
   Her back.  Miraculously one

   Blackbird vanished
   This little bird was fat
   And forgot to pray to St Anthony

   Her hands shook and
   Another flew away
   On and on it went as I watched

   Rapt, kneeling at her feet
   Holding onto her legs, astonished
   At her magic tricks.  Horrified

   By her fingers. With a whirl of her
   Tongue and a great fluttering
   All ten blackbirds returned

   Home to all ten fingers that
   Auntie Flossie held up for me
   To inspect, the sweaty bits of paper.

Accardi's poem appears in her collection  Injuring Eternity (Mischevious Muse Press, 2010).  Previous blog postings that also feature ideas from childhood rhymes include: 30 November 2011, 15 August 2011, 16 May 2011, 24 February 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Children have such different reactions to disfigurement than adults -- curiosity, fear, acceptance. I really like the way you weave fascination and fright into a poem that is ultimately to me about the unconditional love we feel for our elders. So much trust lies in their hands and we as children take the journeys they call us to.