No one knows anymore. Or any less, for who can ever be sure about once. Or upon a time, as if time were a chair. For there was a time when time was more or less sparrow. Sparrow yes and sparrow no. Sparrow the answer answering all the questions. So. The people would put the questions in little stone pots and line them up on the fence posts. Is the universe real? Does God exist? What is all this brouhaha?
For one, numbers. For two, what is flimsy, and always falling. As in “Cerberus, look out! Those flimsy sparrows are always falling.” Cerberus growls. Or licks his immense chops.
Sparrow of earth, sparrow of hops. Sparrow on one twig leg when sparrow’s wings are shot. Sparrow says, “Oh, wings are fine, at times.”
Other times are when sparrow etches syllabaries on the air as a way of plotting its trajectory as it falls into the riven earth. For by sparrow the earth is riven. The earth is cloven tongues, fire, bifurcated flames. This is not by sparrow alone. Sparrow is just one more thing.
One more thing is hieroglyphically sparrow means small, or narrow. Sparrow denotes bad. Rather than saying “sparrow sparrow,” some would say, “Oh! A narrow small bad passerine, clinging to a branch!” For to cling to so many branches sparrow has been forced. Owing to wind, and storm, and perilous moments of all sorts.
In perilous moments of all sorts, has sparrow striven to be other than sparrow? What are the numbers? What are the falling sounds if not dreams?
As for dreams, and all the little numbers sewn in sparrow’s bones, or marrow, or somewhere else in the body of sparrow, and why not, the ornithologists are uncertain. To quench the uncertainty, they drink too much. They become more uncertain. They stagger about, scratching the forks and branches growing inside their heads. Their hair falls out like little soft feathers.
Like little soft feathers, all the sparrowfalls fall into the category of mysteries. The mysteries are one is earth.
Two is air.
As in the air up there, the air, the air which is over the whole mysterious earth is where
birds. Get tired too. Certain sparrows are always falling. By their falling they are defined. There are diagrams. Their diaphragms are forced to expand. They bear their breath in rubber bands, breadth of a nail, nails of fingers. Of humans, obviously. For sparrows are bereft of nails of all kinds. There are no nail prints in their wee sparrow wrists. But there are wounds.
And there are wounds.
Pretty soon there are two wounded sparrows splayed in a bush. The bush is not a burning bush or a bush of any import. It is pedestrian as bushes come. One would not even notice the bush, were not two wounded sparrows push-pinned into its bushy heart. So that it beats a little.
So what beats a little if not sparrow?
For sparrow in the hand is splayed, and small, as fallen things are, after the fall. Its diaphragm is a tangle of string through which music cannot pass. Avast, avast, sparrow wants to sing. A vast human thumb thumbs its wee beak: quiescent, and beyond repair.
“Its wee beak is quiescent and beyond repair,” the ornithologists say. “Music cannot pass,” they say. Anyone can see they are sad about the beak. They are sad about the music. They are sad that sparrow is a song that nobody wants to sing.
For sparrow’s worth is etched on all the ancient maps. The maps whisper facts about sparrow, as in Here lies sparrow. And here. And here. Is the omnipresence of sparrow. As if all the broken sparrows of earth could ever be woven into one whole sparrow.
And whether or not one is looking sparrow in sparrow’s face. And whether or not sparrow is the one one has been looking for for a long long time.
To look for sparrow, look down. Or, in the eye of God.
Two sparrows walk into a bar. It is the kind of bar where all the tired birds are. “Last call,” says God, in both original Sparrow and modern. His eye is full of birdseed. He is wiping down the counter with a sackcloth.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.