Opie accidentally killed a mother bird with his slingshot
and Andy made him take care of the baby birds, feeding
them worms with tweezers. At the end the chicks
were all grown up and Andy was standing on the porch
in his crisp, khaki uniform looking masculine and wise
the way he always did, sort of stern and compassionate
at the same time, and Opie realized he had to free the birds
from the cage he was keeping them in. He had to let them go.
You could see little Ron Howard’s blonde eye lashes
as he bravely lowered his head. He must have been five,
with those little boy shoulders all you want to do is squeeze.
That day on campus these big spaces had been opening up
before me. The halls were empty, nobody was around,
and this void kept yawning beneath my feet,
these long hours of silence when I felt like the speakers
in the Psalms when they talk about their spirits fainting
and the enemy crushing them to the ground. I didn’t know
what to do except just sit there until it was time to go home.
So I was ready for the way the show ended, though
I knew of course that this wasn’t really Mayberry and Andy
wasn’t really Opie’s father. But I was ready and grateful.
The cage sure seems empty, Opie said, when the birds had flown.
Yes, it does, Andy said. But my, don’t the trees seem full.
Then the camera pulled up and away and we were in
the tree tops, and though there weren’t any birds there really,
there was a soundtrack of some birds chirping and bubbling
and singing, and even after Andy put his arm around Opie
and they walked back into the house, I kept loving them
and thinking of my own sons when they were that age
and of my father, how sometimes I imagined him
in Andy’s uniform, with that crease in the trousers–
how Andy never wore a gun, even when he should have.