'A song sparrow hit the window just as summer began'

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Bruce Willard’s poem ‘Song Sparrow’ captures with such intimacy the interruption of the comforting rituals of time: seasons changing, children growing older, water under the bridge, the world continuing its march. Here, in the midst of this, our long and tumultuous pandemic “season”, I am struck by how familiar the breathlessness that Willard describes feels. As with the best poems, the familiarity is formed through empathy — something that poetry teaches us, again and again.



by Bruce Willard

That summer we opened the lake cottage,

prehistoric sound of loons before us,

decades of children at our back,

familiar sound of water

under the porch eaves.


A song sparrow

hit the window

just as summer began.


You held it in your hand

bent over, unable to breathe

another year, working

your fingers

under its feathers and bone.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Bruce Willard, 'Song Sparrow' from In Light of Stars (Four Way Books, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska


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