“The Sparrow”

Norman Dubie

copyright ©2015 by Norman Dubie

The little Blaisdale girl was knock-kneed
and cranky with freckles. She was
quiet and often immersed
in the King’s versions of holy writ.
They called her Sparrow,
so the Lord would be watchful of her …

When her father’s boat failed
to come back from the North Atlantic
there was finally a memorial
followed by a feast –
she and I were charged
to take blue enamel kettles
full of garbage
out to the pit beyond the henhouses.

She was a year older than me and could
walk faster. I stumbled
twice in the pigs’ run. It was
a cold peninsula in Maine.

It was snowing heavily …

In her old communion dress she was
now invisible in a white wind – the gulls
arriving were quickly lost
also in the storm:
there was a disembodied sobbing, only the red
carapace of lobsters, the screams of gulls

and then again,
only the armor of those big sea spiders
climbing high to a vanishing point
beyond even Butler’s Cove
and the great granite face
of Morse Mountain which like a freighter
from Asia moved impossibly into the nor’easter …

Asia was where her mother said the father
had died first,
eating even the bones of snakes, the sound
of gnashing teeth
there beside the compost heap, again and again,
with full ardor
and in the full circle of cold and nitrogen.

Notes on the Poem

Does Norman Dubie's "The Sparrow" look kindly upon the eponymous little girl of the poem ... or perhaps not? Let's take a closer look at this selection from Dubie's 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection, The Quotations of Bone. At first glance, the reassurance about the moniker for the "little Blaisdale girl" is comforting: "They called her Sparrow, so the Lord would be watchful of her ..." However, if she was "often immersed in the King's versions of holy writ" perhaps she pondered some Bible verses that put that sobriquet in a somewhat different light. We can find some Biblical references to sparrows here, and not all of them can perhaps be interpreted as special or protective. In fact, this one from Proverbs 26:2 is rather chilling: "Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, So a curse without cause does not alight." Dubie's poem details the misfortunes of the girl's family. So in fact, did this sparrow alight and bring curses ("disembodied sobbing", "gnashing teeth", more than one death visited upon the patriarch) ... with cause?

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