Archival Features, Poems

MICHAEL HEFFERNAN “They Always Say He Marks the Sparrow’s Fall”

It seems I must have gone into a tailspin
brought on in part from madness already there,
compounded with much that came on by the minute,
and found myself on top of a high curb
that felt to me like a bridge or a cliff edge
on which I rocked and then quite literally
emptied myself like a chamberpot into l’Abîme.
At the time I was, in fact, speaking quite good French,
about any number of things that came to mind
though I was an audience of one, and at that
one nutjob, who was alone in knowing what
the hell he was talking about for Christ’s sake,
and since nobody was there to ask me that,
I wasn’t very likely to ask myself;
and therefore didn’t, but instead just stood there
muttering about la poésie de l’hivernage,
in a guttural mumble like a corner-boy giving out
upon la pluie, la neige, mĂŞme quelque catastrophe
diluvienne, or equally likely Professeur Michaud
pacing around in his brown plaid double-breasted suit,
from the crinkly left cuff of whose shiny coat
he stretched the fingertips but not his whole left hand
toward a casement open beside the lectern,
and outside, beyond the window ledge, even
the baby robins had their throats attuned
to invite the Creator Spiritus into our midst,
so that we might be heard before we slipped
from winter into everlasting spring.

I was listening to the “Bawlers” part of Orphans by Tom Waits, and I kept going over “The World Keeps Turning” just to hear the way Tom intones the line “They always say he marks the sparrow’s fall.” None of this was methodical.  None of this had much to do with writing a poem.  It was what I was going about doing on a bright day in January. When I found myself with a pencil and a notepad, I had the opening line in my head and then a second line, making a sentence. That is the way a poem begins with me. I never know where it is going to go from there. One complete gesture shows up in my head, and becomes a situation that can reveal itself, or something else.  Preferably something else.

Michael Heffernan‘s seventh book, The Night Breeze Off the Ocean, appeared from Eastern Washington University Press in 2005. He has won three  NEA grants, two Pushcarts, and the Iowa Poetry Prize. He has taught for twenty-two years in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. His eighth book, The Odor of Sanctity, is scheduled for release by Salmon Poetry in Ireland. Poetry Northwest published his poems for the first time in the fall of 1975.

“They Always Say He Marks the Sparrow’s Fall” appears exclusively in the Spring-Summer 2008 v3.n1 Issue of Poetry Northwest.