Musing on Sparrow Envy

Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts
J. Drew Lanham
Hub City Press, 2021

There are at least 94 reasons to fall in love with this 94-page chapbook of poetry and poetic observations by J. Drew Lanham (one of the two black birders at any given birding festival). This singular collection deserves permanent residence on the nightstand collection, to be read and re-read daily, even after each printed word is committed to memory. Because they will dance about and change in meaning…

Were I to follow my impulses I would give example after example until the book had no more to give. But I’m sure others would have things to say about that. So please, buy your own dear copy to be properly dog-eared with love. However, I would like to share a bit to whet your appetite.

First for hope, there is a bit of spring within Lanham’s “Non-Stationary Cycling”. 

Yes, there is something lying in wait in these winter woods — lying and waiting in root and stem and shoot — waiting for the sun to shine more purposefully, for the light to linger a little longer with each day’s passage. The wild ginger blooms modestly where no one can see. A wren sang somewhere in a shaft of sun that fractured the chill.

In the depths of what we call the dormant season, frogs a-peeping in secret pools and maples a-blushing against a bare-boned forest are sign certain that life will out and impatiently so — again and again.

And then for sorrow, here is “Lifeless List”.

Do you know
how hard it is
to admire plumage on a bird?
To separate one warbler chip note
from another?
Or count
the telltale hind wing spots
on a butterfly?
Or remember the name of a wildflower
seen a hundred times?
Or gather the energy to find the
Latin binomial of a beetle in a field guide?
Or even give a fuck what the name
of anything is
beyond the last Black body that
lay still after being murdered
by the police?
I can no longer keep track
of the last hurricane that blew in from the earth’s rising heat.
Of the last tweet inciting riot.
That last fire that burned and burned
and burned.
Of the hundreds of thousands of infected and dead.
It is a sad exhausting lifeless list I’d rather not keep,
growing longer by the hour.
There’s little room left in my heart these dark days
for listing anything.
Hardest task comes
in not becoming a member
of a litany of dread.

And now here is Day the Seventh for National Poetry Month.


this animal

this arrogant animal
     arrogating understanding unto itself
though without wisdom
     to see sameness and spirit
entitled opinion
     becomes bartered verity
     virtue reserved for styled selves
divinity made transcendent
     to better master matter
stolen sanctity
     of love and life
all for this one
     in illusory isolation
this child
     names relation weakness
     denying dues of dependence
     lives and dies in lonely segregation
self-imposed
too blind to truth
to ever live in sunlight

©Elizabeth Anker 2022