Free to fly

upWhen that first, open-the-elevator-door smell,
that antiseptic, bleached hospital scent hit me,
I thought of Pip, our pet budgie bird.
(I named him that, from Great Expectations,
and hadn’t thought of him in years.)

Bought from the egg with markings down to his beak,
the lines had receded over time; when he died
he looked and moved like an old, bald man.
He went soon after my mother passed
and just after my sister and nephew moved away,
so that for the first time in 40 years my father was left
with a home that was—let’s say the words—deathly quiet.
I talked to him on the day he was bleaching out
the cage and, despite my urging, said he would
never have another budgie; none could equal Pip.

Anyway, the thought passed in a fleeting
second as I stepped out of the elevator
and into Intensive Care to see if my dad
had survived the heart attack,
or if I would find, as I feared,
an empty birdcage of a bed.
It’s funny what you think of when, isn’t it?


Budgies are small, colorful parakeets from Australia that make wonderful and personable pets. At birth, the line markings on their head go all the way to the beak but recede over time; in Pip’s case his head was pure yellow when he died. The only budgie we ever owned, he was a delightful little creature that my father adored and cared for. Pip lived, I think, to a very ripe old age (for parakeets) of around ten years and was, as I said in the poem, named after the protagonist in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

The ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit, where my father, who is 89 years of age, was taken after his recent heart attack. Last week, we (my sister, her son, and I) had rushed back to his home province, Newfoundland, in Canada, to be with him. Happily, I can report that dad survived the heart attack and at this writing is still, wonderfully with us. I have written several poems about him but the one I love the most is That tree.

Thank you for reading Free to fly. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

For my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


Poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,


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2 responses to “Free to fly

  1. Once again, something good … no, powerful and flowing … is going on with your writing. This seems to have a circular story that draws me in to the sacredness of family, the idiosyncracies. You had my sharpened attention, coming out of the elevator, introduced to your bird. The image of your bird, is a great image. The metaphor of your bird as you consider our fragility, your concern for your dad, and I am glad that your dad is doing well. T

    • T, again thank you. It’s a subtle poem and easy to give up on…thanks for hanging in there. When first you start, the opening lines about the smell (which complete the story arc only at the end) are quickly lost in the tale of Pip. I guess, in some ways it is easy to just forget the poem there…I mean a poem about a pet budgie? How lame is that? It’s not until the very end that it all ties together: the bird as a presage to death and as a parallel to what will happen to my father, the metaphor of the bird being the spirit and the body the cage all tied together with the unifying theme of the antiseptic smells of death and dying…I was going for a sense of easy and simple intimacy exploding at the end into pain and reality, but that front end may be too subtle. Be that as it may, the poem is all true and that dad is still with us is something to be celebrated.