While attending the Burning Word Festival in Whidbey Island, Wash., a few years ago, I was poking around in an antique store in Port Townsend, Wash. Port Townsend is a wonderful Victorian village nestled between the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Mountains, and a ferry ride from Whidbey Island. I have been returning to Port Townsend ever since I first went there for the Centrum Writers Conference in 1986. As a side bar, the Centrum Writers Conference, held at Fort Worden, was excellent. I worked with Lisel Mueller, who ironically is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from the Chicago area.
Not only does the Northwest terrain speak to my soul, but a number of literary opportunities also exist out there: PoetsWest, Burning Word and Centrumto name a few. By the way, the Burning Word Festival is put on by the Washington Poets Association and is held at the Greenbank farm on Whidbey Island.
But back to the antique store I stumbled across an area marked Nippon, which means Japanese. Besides the delightful Nippon vases I collect, there was a painting that disturbed me. As I examined it, I remembered something a college professor once said: artists sometimes predict the future without knowing it.
Because this week commemorates the bombing at Hiroshima, I thought this poem appropriate. It is not a political poem, but rather about art and its ability to transcend time. This poem has been published in Out of Line (Trenton, Ohio, journal, 2006, with Sam Longmire as editor), Tattoos on Cedar (the Washington Poets Association anthology, 2006), and in Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity (book, Wind Publications), and the Illinois State Poetry Society (Web site, 2005).
Sparrows Falling from the Sky
The soprano, whose voice is brilliant
As fire, sings the aria from Madam Butterfly
On the radio in the Port Townsend Antique Store.
The notes build like snow before an avalanche
On Mount Baker across the bay.
This could be heaven, I am thinking
Examining the quirky Nippon vases
I have grown fond of: the ardor of their attempts
At European Baroque foiled
By the ever- graceful elongated necks
Of snow geese, the calligraphy of stylized trees.
How I love this upstart marriage of East and West.
The aria reaches its zenith when I enter
Booth #23, a dark cove devoted to things Nippon:
The era before Pearl Harbor,
Before the high society ladies scratched off
Nippon from the bottom of tea sets
Delicate and filigreed as small, old hands.
The aria reaches its zenith, which
Would have been enough to fog my glasses,
Enough to flood my eyes. But
There on the wall a strange painting
Startles me. It is so topsy-turvy, so unidealized
I have to get closer to it to see what gives.
A cacophony of bird wings, helter-skelter
Like a firestorm, in faded red and muddy
Charcoal. Birds adrift like autumn leaves.
It reads: Sparrows Falling from the Sky.
Hiroshima. Circa 1900. Artist Unknown.
It grips me by the throatrain on my face.
The correct Web site address for Murder in Galena, featured in the July 25-31, 2007, Literary Hook, is www.sandraprincipe.com.
from the Aug 1-7, 2007, issue