Literary Hook: ‘Sparrows Falling from the Sky’

August 11, 2010

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

August marks the month of the bombing of Hiroshima. This poem alludes to Hiroshima, but in a subtle way.

Someone once said artists are sometimes visionaries with the ability to foresee the future. Though I don’t know if that is empirically true or provable, when I saw the painting, “Sparrows Falling from the Sky,” it made me wonder about that. The actual date on the painting preceded the bombing of Hiroshima.

Over the years, I have taken the date out of the poem itself because I think it asks too much of the reader to infer the role of the artist in this. The poem speaks just as well without that. But now you know “the rest of the story” from the poet’s point of view.

I wrote the poem several years ago, after a trip to Port Townsend, Wash. When I walked outside after seeing the piece, it began to rain, which struck me symbolically.

The poem has been published by Out of Line, Saturday Night at the Diner, the Illinois State Poetry Society, and in my collection, Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity. I am grateful to all the editors who have appreciated the poem, and I hope you will, too.

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.

There on the wall a strange painting startles me.
It is so topsy-turvy, so incongruous
I am drawn into it—

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. Artist Unknown.
It grips me by the throat—rain on my face.

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