The White-Throated Sparrow Can't Compare

—for Tony Hoagland

He had made it through so many winters,
an optimist in the blizzard's heart, staying on—

so it seemed wrong, unfair (if such a word
has any currency), that the gray expanse
that used to mean the rain of spring
should be the solid metal of a sky
in motion overhead, and nowhere
for a small and singing thing to fly,
now that the bombers had come back,
a phalanx overhead, a Roman legion
given wings, and the land below
grown dark— the way a shadow slips
across the land when a cloud passes
overhead. But there resemblance ends.

As does ours with the sparrow, who, resting
on a shaded branch, shakes his wings
and gives the clear, reflective whistle
for which his kind is known.

But now the very thought of him
has flown; the mind can't hold for long
the sparrow and the bombers
in a single thought. Mad
to make them share a line, as if
to balance power so unequal
on the creaking fulcrum
of the merest and:
8888888888888888 a pennyworth
of weight with its live, pensive song
against a roaring overhead—pure dread,
its leaden tonnage, and its tongue.
—Eleanor Wilner, Spring 2001.
—"Bird and Building, New York, New York, USA." Photo by Coral Hull.