A Bird in Period Three British Literature

By Carla Panciera

“Rarely, rarely comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!”
— Percy Bysshe Shelley

Mid-winter we read sonnets. My students slouch:
        This has nothing to do with us.

They have almost convinced me.

        I skipped the Cavaliers, fast forwarded a hundred years
to avoid the comments that would follow

        To the Virgins. I saved one boy’s life from being publicly doomed,
chaste and seemingly unsalvageable.

        What could I say?
That we aren’t who we are in high school?

        That none of us is anywhere forever?
That we all eventually get laid?

        They would sit up, if I said that.

Today, even I want to watch the movie instead,
        the octave set on a cliff, the sestet enacted by glamorous people.

I wish for chemistry lab explosions, water main ruptures,
        the inexplicable loss of electricity.

Someone send us home.

        But curriculum, that nest, presents its full bowl:
Finish, it urges. To my students I say, Come back.

        When I do, a bird flies in, a sparrow overhead in frantic swipes.

It wings into a window that never opened,
        even in its architect’s imagination.

Where did that come from? How could it enter
        this sealed-tight place without a bell-ringing invitation?

Finally — questions that merit response.

        My students confess everything: windows sledge-hammered open,
emergency exits propped to allow a seam of spring air.

        In the basement I didn’t dream existed, underground as
they skip math, skateboard.

        Rooftops, loading docks, doors with mysteriously mangled locks — a species apart divulges.

The custodian arrives with a mop, swabs ceiling tiles,
        lights that have blinked off all year in rhythm with our own lapses.

The poor bird whips itself against glass.

Come back, says the world: grass islands,
        ice patches forcing reeds, a sky whitened by the portent of weather.

The sparrow dips. We duck, applaud. The custodian
        considers, hands on hips, how to get this done without a net.

My students wonder, too, how do we leave
        a place and not return, or when we must stay put, elude?

On the chalk tray, the sparrow perches, stone-eyed, heart flashing in his breast.
        Everyone looks to me for answers —

the virgins, the once-loved, the envied,
        those left behind to clean up when we’re through.

Oh, my audience, my grounded ones, I say: Here are words.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 9

Carla Panciera was published fiction, memoire and poetry in numerous journals. Her poetry collection, One of the Cimalores, received the 2004 Cider Press Review Book Award.

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