Making Your Own Days, So to Speak

Cody Walker
February 17, 2014
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Another storm system is hurtling toward Michigan this evening. A half-foot of snow is expected, along with more gum-eraser skies. Haven’t we had enough of this already? Would somebody please have a word with the sun?

Until last night, the only person I knew to have a direct line to the sun was Frank O’Hara. “Frankly I wanted to tell you / I like your poetry,” the sun tells O’Hara (with a passing pun) in “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” Then I read “John and Barbara’s Story” in Mary Poppins. For the past several weeks, my three-year-old daughter and I have been reading P. L. Travers’ 1934 tale of (let’s just say it) a witch who comes to care for some children. We’ve marveled at the witch-nanny’s powers: she flies! she time-travels! she affixes gold-paper stars to the sky! But in last night’s chapter, we were surprised to find that the children—the youngest children, the twins John and Barbara—have special powers all their own. They can speak to the sun:

“I say, move over! You’re right in my eyes,” said John in a loud voice.

“Sorry!” said the sunlight. “But I can’t help it. I’ve got to get across this room somehow. Orders is orders. I must move from East to West in a day and my way lies through this Nursery. Sorry! Shut your eyes and you won’t notice me.”

They talk to starlings, and to Mary Poppins, and to each other. (They’re infants, remember: less than a year old.) They understand the language of the trees, and the wind, and the stars. All children, we’re told, have this connection to the universe—but then they grow older, and the connection is severed. In a devastating turn, Travers jumps forward in time. The twins turn one, and the starling returns for a visit:

“Well, Barbarina,” he began in his soft, wheedling voice, “anything for the old fellow today?”

“Be-lah-belah-belah-belah!” said Barbara, crooning gently as she continued to eat her arrowroot biscuit.

The Starling, with a start of surprise, hopped a little nearer.

“I said,” he repeated more distinctly, “is there anything for the old fellow today, Barbie dear?”

“Ba-loo—ba-loo—ba-loo,” murmured Barbara, staring at the ceiling as she swallowed the last sweet crumb.

The Starling stared at her. . . .

“So—it’s happened,” he said quietly to Mary Poppins.

She nodded.

The Starling gazed dejectedly for a moment at the Twins. Then he shrugged his speckled shoulders.

I was interrupted several times by my infant daughter while typing this piece. But I’m too far gone to understand her cries. Maybe the sun caught some of it. Maybe a starling, with snow on its wings, is speaking with her now.

Mary Poppins

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