Song for the Song of the White-Throated Sparrow

Don McKay

copyright ©2000 by Don McKay

Before it can stop itself, the mind
has leapt up inferences, crag to crag,
the obvious arpeggio. Where there is a doorbell
there must be a door – a door
meant to be opened from inside.
Door means house means – wait a second –
but already it is standing on a threshold previously
known to be thin air, gawking. The Black Spruce
point to it: clarity,
melting into ordinary morning, true
north. Where the sky is just a name,
a way to pitch a little tent in space and sleep
for five unnumbered seconds.

Notes on the Poem

The title of this poem just might send you off to discover what the song of the white-throated sparrow actually is, or to hear it again if you've encountered it before. You'll discover or be reminded that it's a surprisingly ornate song issuing from such a wee avian, just as this brief poem is a deceptively rich puzzle. Right from the start, this poem makes you pause, consider, question and certainly not take initial impressions at face value. For example, it isn't about a sparrow or the sparrow's song, but it's a song for ... the song? Nothing that follows seems to be paying tribute to birdsong, mind you. Someone's mind is racing, though, with a fast-paced musicality ("the obvious arpeggio") that could be just like the sparrow's intricate call. As we leap from doorbell to door, we stop to make sure that yes, a door "opened from the inside" is one where someone is home and is going to greet us. But - "wait a second" - is there indeed a house behind the door? Is anybody home? As the mind races on, to "clarity, melting into ordinary morning" does the pace here, threatening to become manic, suddenly calm down as "true north" and possibly some direction indeed becomes clear? Does that racing mind finally find "a way to pitch a little tent in space and sleep for five unnumbered seconds." ... and, in the time it takes for the sparrow to trill its complicated scales, has that mind found peace?

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