top of page

Kathleen Clancy

A History of The Sparrow's Song

Listen while the sparrows sing to Philadelphia

from the branches of trees lining streets edged in sidewalks

cracked like a honeycomb of dry mud buckles when a puddle evaporates.

As subways pulse beneath, close to faults and fiery veins,

fanning continents like spiders’ legs, like neurons, twitching out,

trees grow in rings around themselves

and into furniture.

Feel the grass; it’s soft

like a rug,

and a field

like a quilt

built of strands.

I map the veins on the back of your hand, the web of bones, the wiry hairs.

As we stretch on the grass, knees bent, ankles crossed,

away above the white trellis, and this patchwork grid,

a skywriter softly weaves words across the sky--

fingers of smoke from the neighbor’s grill,

faint strains and refrains of a song,

the sun refracting rainbows through the lashes of my eyes…

See the grass; it’s soft

like a rug,

and a field

like a quilt

built of strands.

We say hello to the neighbor,


His head floats above the smoke above his chainlink fence.

Vines grow into silver waffles there

to keep the dog, or the occasional hedgehog, away from his lawn.

Smoke, the song of fire, tells you something if you listen.

History is always beginning:

As we line up for the fairground, we share simple things first--cotton candy, popcorn, amusement rides--

then the fireworks burst, their loud trajectories floating sparks edged out by black space,

sparks that glisten like the blood from our veins--vessels that long to sing.

As thunder lolls mists over open spaces, lightning slits the smoky sky

and in an instant glints.

Sounds though linger long--drums and cannons echo

anthems of a past battle lines drawn

far from their source, like the light from the stars, like the night from the day,

like a sparrow’s song to us on a July evening sky.

Imagine the grass; it’s soft

like a rug,

and a field

like a quilt

built of strands.

As wings beat and arms meet,

the future sings to me.

Did you see the bird? Do you see the song?

Does it matter that the flashes don’t appear so far,

or that we won’t hear them from a certain distance?

Ancestral hauntings warranting nothing but a graveyard,

how can we celebrate then?

Remember the grass? It was soft

like a rug.

Philadelphia was once a forest,

or fields, then farms--

bears, cows, sparrows then, too.

Their feet were tiny bands of gold

clutched round limbs of trees,

their beaks held seed;

they were the source of a song.

Will I hear your voice

when you have gone,

or when I have left Philadelphia?

Will we know the sparrow’s vestigial song?

And when will we ask, Which stops first,

the sound, or us hearing it?

Gilded trumpets’ flaring beaks,

arteries of noise,

round this yolk of a planet,

its sounds melded down

into red rockets, white cloths, blue songs--

broken into instances

we have just stitched together.

Kathleen Clancy recently placed poems in Café Review, Cider Press Review and Apalachee Review. Poems from her sonnet sequence “Robbing the Dollhouse” were used as part of the text of a multi-media dance-drama, Shackled Spirits, which was performed at Holy Cross College and at the Bali Arts Festival in Indonesia.

bottom of page