Sparrows, Starlings

by Christine Potter
The Waters
First Place, May 2021
Judged by Sarah Carleton

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them
is forgotten before God. —Luke 12:6

Consider the tiny hard-eyed birds in the skylight of the shopping mall,
shoe-leather brown, fat on french fries, the cast-off bits of hot dogs, sodden
ends of ice cream cones, and mean as a sore knee—or the ones dining

outdoors with you, bullying their way into croissants and spilled lattes. One
lights on the table two feet from your shopping bag and turns its head right
and then left, puffing its feathers: Give me. A house sparrow, its species now

in decline in its native England. Supposedly loosed in Central Park in the
nineteenth century by Eugene Schieffelin, who may or may not have been
trying to seed America with every bird mentioned by Shakespeare. Bees

hum in the garbage can beside the only other unoccupied seat. Best to
carry your coffee to the car and drive home, where starlings the color of
oil puddles and stippled at the neck by metallic rainbows shovel seed from

your feeders onto the ground. Descendants of another flock brought here by
the same man, but handsome, sleek as new-sharpened pencils. Nest-robbers,
though. And neither breed protected by U.S. law against human cruelty, not

like other wild birds. Common. Aggressive. Destructive. Weed-creatures.
And yet if you had never before seen wings work you’d forgive them for
being here with the rest of us, the result of our good intentions and folly. As

if they need forgiveness. Great numbers of starlings fly sometimes in the
shapes of wings or even of whole birds: undulating murmurations; dark,
shimmering clouds—like songs you can see. The way prayers look to God.

“Sparrows, Starlings” jumped out at me immediately, and on each rereading, it only got better. The poem teems with life in all its random and ordinary beauty, and the poet does a great job of using sounds to tie it together. Images flit and land throughout the poem, with bits of history tucked in like ribbon in a bird's nest. The metaphors are fresh and startling and spot-on—"starlings the color of / oil puddles and stippled at the neck by metallic rainbows," "sleek as new-sharpened pencils," and of course, that zinger of a last line, "dark, / shimmering clouds—like songs you can see. The way prayers look to God.” So good. --Sarah Carleton

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