In the middle of the day, I was lost
in thought, staring at my newly dead father,
or the portion of him the funeral home
gave me back in a cheap little plastic urn
I’d placed on my study’s mantle.
I’d been reading about Bede’s sparrow,
which, it turned out, was not Bede’s at all,
but a story he wrote down, told by
some anonymous advisor to a King
in Northumbria who wondered if Christianity
offered something more specific
than the blank he’d drawn regarding the life
before and after the one he was living.
When I lapsed into the half sleep
of daydream, I saw, behind my shut eyes,
my father and me in a mead hall, watching
a sparrow’s darts and swoops. My father,
who had nothing to say now that he’d died—
no philosophy or theology, no joke even
about a man who walked into a mead hall—
kept his one good eye on the sparrow that flew
in one door and all too quickly out the other.
I wanted more, a replay in slow motion
at least, the sparrow’s acrobatics up close,
the swooping loop-de-loops and slaloming,
the certainty of its last choice tinged with
the silvery blue winter twilight,
but my father, who always said to my woes,
want less, turned his attention
to the emptiness of the door, the sparrow
now here, now gone, what you see,
what you can’t, all the same to him.
He warmed himself by the fire
and motioned to me. I half expected
our old heated talk to resume,
my father tossing his beliefs my way,
beliefs I too often rejected as slogans
when he was alive—things come at will
and not when you will them—
but we are silent, my father wanting no more
than for me to sit with him and watch
the arabesque of flames,
as if that alone could take care of everything
I still so desperately needed.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.