SEPTEMBER 2015, by Diederik Oostdijk
“Something there is that” makes a poem sometimes too painful to listen to. I have that feeling with Robert Frost’s reading of his own “Birches”, although it seems harmless enough. It is not just the grandfatherly voice crackling on about mortality, nor his accurate description that life can feel like “a pathless wood” where no one ascending it escapes being bruised and burned. In truth, it is the birches themselves that do me in.
The refererence to those trees transports me back to the two gigantic birches in the backyard of my childhood home. Seeing them from afar signaled to me that I was nearly there when steering my bike through the final bend for my last stretch home. In a more meaningful way, the birches resembled my parents too: seemingly so tall, strong, and upstanding. I did not realize at the time that they were tossed back and forth by life so often that they could hardly bend anymore by the time I was growing up.
I myself was never much a swinger of birches. Too studious too quickly, I set out on a path to understand all I could about all sorts of birches, and how they got crooked and bent. Yet one of my fondest childhood memories is not unlike Frost’s fantasy. I can still feel the sensation in my body of how my parents occasionally tossed me in the air. Each held one of my hands while walking down the street, with me kicking my feet as I was airlifted. Like Frost’s speaker, I’d like to go back to that time, to feel cradled between those two giant birches. As they gently put me back down, I too felt that earth was “the right place for love,” as Frost knew all along.