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Field Sparrow


Our little watchman of the summer fields.

You may have heard his emotional stutter

From a small tree on a thirsty meadow’s edge,

When he’s striving to keep the world awake

In the melancholy eternity

Of the torrid middays of midsummer.

Five months past, snow and ice bound, how we craved this.

Each warm ray, each green blade, we vowed to love.

But the shadeless glare and the baking heat,

The stifling haze of dust and pollen,

The fatiguing thrums of the katydids,

The blind stares of the insomniac blossoms

In the parched grass bowed to the righteous sun—

And our brutal halos of biting flies:

One more scenario for Purgatory.

Tiger swallowtails stagger like our thoughts.

Our hearts could be back in the dead of winter!

It’s almost as though the sunshine were snow.


Hope springs eternal in the field sparrow.

There also flows an everlasting sorrow.

He seems to lift his voice for thanks and praise,

When his early whistled notes climb so bravely

Toward a dusty peak, but the heights of praise

They never chart, we hear him losing heart

To the overwhelming sadness of it all—

We hear him wonder what is worth a song,

And then there comes that mournful downward rush

When all his notes are tumbling to the ground.


It can take a sparrow to know a sparrow,

But not so the field, with his fresh-shaven face

In its trademark glow of boyish optimism:

He seems to be singing a sadder bird's song.

Where he’s perched atop a lonely stunted fir

On his acre homestead fenced by his vigilance—

He too likes a wide margin to his life—

A nest may be at the base of that tree,

Cupped in the meadow grass, that his soulmate tends

With a heroine's quiet devotion.

When he switches lookouts, or drops below

To garner his pence of a favored seed

Or to intercept a prairie insect—

Well, no one would call him an aerialist;

He seems as conflicted in flight as in song.

And yet how he perseveres, in his praise

And lament of praise, as he daylong builds

And rebuilds his little sonic ziggurat

In the summer air!  We want to console

The unflagging little fellow, and tell him

He captures our melancholy so perfectly.


But while the minutes are passing like months,

The months are secretly passing like minutes;

And all at once there’s a birdless quiet,

The butterflies look raggedy weary,

Fatalism lurks in the applause of the broadleaves,

And look—a leaf in the sumac has opened a vein!

Then, to the fleeing echo of the ground crickets,

Summer’s setting casts all the meadow in gold.

And our loyal watchman, missing from his post:

How lonely it is without his lonesome call!

It can seem that summer had come and gone

Like the brisk little scale of the field sparrow.



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