American Life in Poetry: Song Sparrow

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Bruce Willard’s poem, “Song Sparrow,” captures with such intimacy, the interruption of the comforting rituals of time: seasons changing, children growing older, water under the bridge, the world continuing its march.

Here, in the midst of this, our long and tumultuous pandemic “season,” I am struck by how familiar the breathlessness that Willard describes feels.

As with the best poems, the familiarity is formed through empathy — something that poetry teaches us, again and again.

Song Sparrow
By Bruce Willard

That summer we opened the lake cottage,
prehistoric sound of loons before us,
decades of children at our back,
familiar sound of water
under the porch eaves.

A song sparrow
hit the window
just as summer began.

You held it in your hand
bent over, unable to breathe
another year, working
your fingers
under its feathers and bone.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Bruce Willard, “Song Sparrow” from In Light of Stars (Four Way Books, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.