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English Sparrow     pg. 2360    Engraving


I’m nothing but a monkey-shaped silhouette
in this ship’s rigging. Shanghaied for want
of a haircut and quick drink: temporary pleasures
—how quickly the locks lengthen, how fast to sober.
Not so the finality of the pull of a trapdoor lever,

the fall to mattress—not out of kindness;
there is no courtesy but towards currency.
The figurehead’s direction charted
by the captain with ancient instruments,
dead matter. My orders: fix lines etched against sky

same color as water, hard to tell where the horizon;
where Lot’s wife looked back, dissolved;
where seabirds’ wings unfold: spars and sails:
how quickly the word spread. First paper,
thus printing. Credit the Chinese,

pull an impression from wood blocks. Everything backwards
until the proof. Compare this capture
to the choice of making a pilgrimage,
the comfort of a catch-all saint. How strong my mettle,
St. Christopher’s sheen against my breast?

For a brief moment, soaked in salt and sweat,
I succumb to seasickness. Across my face, my ghost
—most likely to be left in some city
with an unfamiliar alphabet; where was home anyway?
Where the roots of those related too weak in soil

with so few boot prints? Do I say, now,
exile or adventure? Did the rat,
the English sparrow? Not a true sparrow.
A dull-colored bird carried from continent
to another. Caught in the crow’s nest, some twigs,

spotted eggs. These birds, these vermin.
The hazards of travel. Of easy transport.
Of open ports. This is how disease spreads,
how songbirds gone. How pests. How all that’s left
is a short, shrill chirp, not pleasant to hear.