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Elizabeth Balise

Sparrows Falling


This poem comes from a dream.


Sun—as February ordains it


twisted inordinate—in gray blanket 

Snow has sifted to the pockets, wrinkles

the cuff of his woolen cap


An old hand rubs stubbled cheek

Snow flickers and falls again

in a dazzle


As he groans and stirs—

    sparrows sing

As he struggles to sit—

    sparrows sing

As he exhales into the chill 

    he considers the lilies of the field

Their luminous curling petals rise

    steam or hope? 

    or just white smoke 

    wandering from the tiny fire

He sits a while to listen

    to sparrows bickering in the bushes

    then bursting into song


They have their audience

Across in a court of broken glass

and toppled stones

a room— still partially intact

Kindling gathered 

Marta melts snow for tea

peeling potatoes in her lap

Stops to blow on hands

Marta’s heart—decent, visceral

like her hair—bun, kerchief 

like her words—few in the failing

like the wounds of her smile


And Mikhail—harnessed 

to the sounds of service

Orderly rhythm in ruin

hush    hush     hush

of a broom stroking cobbles

Mikhail—his hands wrapped in rags

Not a warrior  

but restorer of places to live

Stops, removes his cap

squinting sunlight into the channels of his face

Then turns toward unsteady shuffling behind him


“You shouldn’t.” 

Tears interrupt 

reaching for the broom

“You shouldn’t do this for me.”


“No, no, Holy Father. It is little thing—

a little thing I do.”

Good Friday, Hart Island~  2020

The wind groans with reluctance
Sends April snow in squalls—
A tossed and careless shawl
worn long and tired with this Day
No glimpse of sun
A dirge of snow surrenders on the grass
Winter making one last pass
among us
gray with grief

Due east of Rat Island


Appropriate in name
Appropriate to this~ the day

Surrounded only
by the jealous surf
with hateful waves
Consumed by the howls of  “crucify!”

He is not ours!

They are not ours!

Send them all away!


They belong to the island
to the ground
from which they came
Not for us to cry and claim

Their abandonment

Wooden boxes fill the
A Babi Yar
of our own doing
so it seems
and yet again...


In the bitterness
there is 


an island—

Hart—I think they call it
Both a prison and a grave
of NYC

A place “despised and rejected

rejected of men
and acquainted with grief”  ~Isaiah

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