News item: Jet Vanishes over Atlantic

There’s a special providence
in the fall of a sparrow.
But it is quite possible
that the world as we know it
is but a trick, and that what we know,
are little certain of, will end–
can plummet from the skies.

I wonder about that airliner
up there disappearing (poof)
as if it never was
its 200+ person load nullified,
black box irrelevant
in unforgiving Atlantic.
The readiness, hardly.

But even more about
the fall of a same-day sparrow
in my wife’s planter
of pink and red impatiens.
Impatient, no doubt,
a predator had decided
to get on with it,
despite the available love-birds
mating in the lilacs.

When life, unsuspecting.
was there interrupted,
(the wrong place, the wrong time)
much like those seat-belted innocents
on their final flight
to obliterating fathoms.

(Strange lifeless bird…)

It hardly bears thinking of–
all this crash and burn.
For my own part (as plausible),
a surprise bite to the neck.
delayed antihistamine,
and voila, an inglorious death
by unseen bug
on a patio in August.
My own, as likely another’s–
all falls thereby imminent.


(Hamlet revisited in the first two lines and “The readiness” allusion. “Trick” is the view of life offered by John Masefield in “Sea Fever.” Obviously, the sparrow mentioned by Hamlet morphs into the dead sparrow I found the day this poem was written, the same day as a plane tragedy. It’s one thing when a sparrow or one person die; mass death, though, is something else on an altogether larger, somewhat unapprehendable scale.

There was some mating going on the same day in our backyard; often birth or survival are going on at the same time, as death as director Robert Altman showed in the hospital scene of Short Cuts. Or as Dylan once sang: “he not busy being born is busy dying.” The absurd death–via insect bite, allergy, and no medicine–is the kind of thing that could happen to many people, maybe even myself, so that wrote itself in the last stanza. Why kid oneself?

So in this selection, you have the one-minute presence, one-minute not, on three different levels, in three different contexts. One can be alive one minute, blotted out the next, somewhat absurdly, as the French existentialists (such as Albert Camus, himself unexpectedly killed in a car crash) often remarked on. The simple fact of living is fraught with risk; we take so much for granted. I will leave off the presence-non-presence theme by mentioning that Jane Kenyon’s poem “Otherwise” is the best thing I’ve ever read on the topic. As she puts it, if we’re lucky, each day may be full of good things and the best that presence has to offer. In contrast, she adds ”But one day, I know,/it will be otherwise.”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply