Trapped Sparrow, O'Hare Airport

by James Silas Rogers Issue: Fall 2015
Bede or some such saint said that all
this earthly life amounts to is a bird
flying in and out the windows of a hall.
That’s an arresting thought, this morning
on the ground in this non-place where
the highest good is to be on time
and no one asks what time itself is good for.
Today, Bede might have preferred
to use the metaphor of changing planes;
we hurry around while being transferred
from one gate to another, then sit—
a pinball waiting to be batted out
of our stasis and onto the scheduled
crest of a tide. On the other hand, the system
works, most of the time. This morning
is one of those frozen-in spaces, owing
to a mechanical delay. A ten-year-old boy
across from me is immersed in a handheld
game. I wonder if he knows the difference
between his toy reality and the flight
for which we both wait. Do I?
Idling at the gate, the book I am reading
involves medieval wonder tales
of talking birds. They were easy to believe,
nine hundred years ago. An eagle
would climb onto a sinning king’s
dinner table and give him a fierce
but pious scolding. Or a white dove
would give comfort at an empty cradle.
Once, talking crows were common,
miracles that caught no one off guard,
just ordinary stories that got told
in grocery stores and pubs. I close my book
and as I do, a small, feathered blur,
a house sparrow, flies overhead, streaking
straight down the mezzanine.
Were I more optimistic, I’d think
the bird could find a way out
of its airport stir, but I have my doubts.
Morning sunlight pours through vast
windows, but the bird, like the rest of us
is caught on the inside of the glass—
no weather, no breeze. I imagine a serf
in the age of Alfred, and how he might
look up from the surrounding mud
to see a passing lark, and be reminded
by its song and its disappearance into
the distance that, yes, escape
was still possible somewhere in the world.
On Concourse C, I am far from certain
there is any place the sparrow could go;
but it leaves a whisper in its wake.

James Silas Rogers is the editor of New Hibernia Review, a journal of Irish Studies. He is the author of Sundogs (Parallel Press, 2006), a poetry chapbook, and of Northern Orchards: Places Near the Dead (North Star Press, 2014), a collection of essays and poems concerning graveyards.