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I CAN DO NOTHING WELL / Nancy Walker / /T HATE TO SEW," I said to a co-worker who had just told me A she was embroidering a table cloth. "I practically get hot flashes when I have to sew on a button," I said. A little later, I added, "I never could learn to knit. My mother tried to teach me to knit scarves, but all I made were long strips with random holes." She laughed, paused, and then said, "Well, what do you do well?" That stopped me. I look at O'Keeffe's "Lake George Barns" or her "Road Past the View" and feel we are kindred spirits, but I can't paint. I play the piano so rarely that I almost have to go back to John Thompson's beginning book every time. I remember Cornel Wilde playing Frederic Chopin in Song to Remember. I saw the movie several times and, inspired by Wilde's/Chopin's response to the Russians, refused to play for some relatives, telling them I didn't play for "Tsarist butchers." I was inflamed by passionate ignorance; they were baffled. I never could sing well, even though in my mind Tm Nina Simone. Recently, at a college graduation, I discovered that I barely can sing at all. An unfamiliar croak came out when I tried to join the crowd in "Oh say can you see . . . ." No, Tm not a doer. I have to make an appointment with myself— well in advance—to clean the refrigerator or water and fertilize the roses. Instead, I listen and watch. On weekday dawns, I hear the whip-poor-will's serenade blend with the robin's anthem. On week end mornings, I can count on the 7:30 woodpecker to find an intriguing insect outside my bedroom window, tapping in time to get me up for National Public Radio's "Week End Edition." As I slide out of bed, fondly irritated, I wonder again about the woodpecker's work. I can fathom the speed of a hummingbird's wings but not the velocity of a woodpecker's head. I think about the human tendency to get headaches. Tm glad we're not woodpeckers. I can sit in the sun room and watch the bird bath where a mockingbird sometimes refreshes himself and then flies to a branch above. One day, as he sang, I was so stunned by his vocal virtuosity that I forgot to keep track of the birds he imitated. I remember his rendition of robin song and cardinal song and the accusatory blue jay call. Robins like to bathe there, too, and red-headed woodpeckers pause for a sip or so, but I've never seen a goldfinch bathe or drink. I, The Missouri Review · 259 helplessly anthropomorphic, wonder about the personal habits of birds. Who bathes? Who doesn't? Why? Last summer, four adolescent bluebirds bathed there, the sibUngs splashing whUe round-shouldered Pop watched from a branch above. When their feathers were drenched, the foursome sat on the edge of the bird bath looking frumpy. Later, a red squirrel darted up for a drink. And I have spent unmeasured time standing in the north door of the sunroom, watching a pair of barn swallows build a nest in the carport. I was enchanted (even though I was alarmed, too, to see the mud splattering not just the floor of the carport but also my new car). I was awed by their ability to build that nest without hands. (We are, after aU, arrogant enough to believe that the evolution of the thumb makes us superior. Well, we can hitchhike.) And there were those industrious swallows, noisily szee-szahing as they worked—veritable potters with their expertise in mixing and molding mud and grass. Because the male and female swallow look alike to me, I cannot tell who bears responsibility for sitting on the eggs. I do know that both of them were present from the day the nest was begun, except for occasional recesses to fly over the meadow. As far as I could tell, both parents fed the young. These swallows found the antenna on my car a useful perch...


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