Waking Early to Birdsong I Think of Our History of Loss

Gerry LaFemina

Predawn sparrows aflutter, chirrup
chirrup, under the awning by my window, &

the littler cat already by the glass cracking
the knuckles of both paws,
as if dreaming of feathers & marrow. How

Mao Zedong ordered their killing—one of four pests
to be eradicated. The Great Leap Forward.

Thus 1958 was filled with gunfire &

the beating of drums, so the birds, too frightened
to land, fell from the air
exhausted, literally

dropping dead.

Another day advances into the vacant rooms
illuminates the artifacts of what I’ve almost forgotten,

their shrouds of dust & loss.
The cat only knows appetite.
Consider this: no one foresaw the consequences:

the plague of insects in ‘59, the famine, the lack of cheer
in the daily lives of villagers who couldn’t say

what was missing come early spring mornings,

those bright sharp notes, the way
each bird had seemed to carry lightspark in its beak.

Gerry LaFemina's latest books are The Story of Ash (Anhinga, 2018) and Baby Steps in Doomsday Prepping (Madville, 2020). A former director of the AWP, he is a professor of English at Frostburg State University and is also a mentor in multiple genres in the Carlow University MFA Program. He's also the guitarist and singer for the Maryland punk band The Downstrokes.