The School Bag

Roman Poem III: A Sparrow’s Feather

George Barker

There was this empty birdcage in the garden.
     And in it, to amuse myself, I had hung
pseudo-Oriental birds constructed of
    glass and tin bits and paper, that squeaked sadly
as the wind sometimes disturbed them. Suspended
     in melancholy disillusion they sang
of things that had never happened, and never
     could in that cage of artificial existence.
The twittering of these instruments lamenting
     their absent lives resembled threnodies
torn from a falling harp, till the cage filled with
     engineered regret like moonshining cobwebs
as these constructions grieved over not existing.
     The children fed them with flowers. A sudden gust
and without sound lifelessly one would die
     scattered in scraps like debris. The wire doors
always hung open, against their improbable
     transfiguration into, say, chaffinches
or even more colorful birds. Myself I found
     the whole game charming, let alone the children.
And then, one morning — I do not record a matter of cosmic
     proportions, I assure you,
not an event to flutter the Volscian dovecotes —
     there, askew among those constructed mages
like a lost soul electing to die in Rome,
     its feverish eye transfixed, both wings fractured,
lay — I assure you, Catullus — a young sparrow.
     Not long for this world, so heavily breathing
one might have supposed this cage his destination
     after laboring past seas and holy skies
whence, death not being known there, he had flown.
     Of course, there was nothing to do. The children
brought breadcrumbs, brought water, brought tears in their
     eyes perhaps to restore him, that shivering panic
of useless feathers, that tongue-tied little gossip,
     that lying flyer. So there, among its gods
that moaned and whistled in a little wind,
     flapping their paper anatomies like windmills,
wheeling and bowing dutifully to the
     divine intervention of a child’s forefinger,
there, at rest and at peace among its monstrous
     idols,  the little bird died. And, for my part,
I hope the whole unimportant affair is
     quickly forgotten. The analogies are too trite.      1962