Earlier this year, my wife Safora was walking our dog Addie over a grassy patch hemmed in by a 50-ft. wall on one side, and a highway on the other. An unusual place to find a baby sparrow, but Addie caught the scent, and there she was: a sad-looking fellow, not yet a fledgling and awfully mangy in appearance. The wildlife rehabber diagnosed her with white-feather disease, meaning the feathers had developed poorly and the bird would be unable to fly—a death sentence in the wild. Treatment consisted of hourly hand feedings from dawn to dusk, and plucking a feather from each wing every morning, the hope being that with better nutrition, the feathers might grow in properly and give the sparrow, dubbed Chickpea, a chance. Treatment also included the joy of welcoming another being into our lives, sharing in its morning chirps, its hops along the window sill, and its naps: thirteen grams of exquisite creation curled up in the palm of your hand.
Unfortunately, birds in this condition often have a viral infection, and have a 1 in 15 survival rate. Chickpea flourished in spirit for three weeks, but her feathers failed to improve and, over the course of her last two days, a virus quickly ushered her into the next phase of existence. She died in the refuge of my wife’s hand, the hand that had picked her up out of the grass, fed her, put her to bed each night, and held her as one of our own. Her absence loomed large over our lives for days, weeks, but eventually gave way to the fondness one feels when one consults a lost loved one in one’s heart, and the continuity of presence reminds us that even in our own bodies, we are not alone. Chickpea marked us, enlarged our realm of relationship, and we are improved by those markings.
And that’s what I think works of art do: swoop in, demand attention, occupy our hearts and minds, connect us with something bigger than ourselves. They widen the circle of us, mark us, be it for moments, hours, weeks or, for the ones that make a lasting impression, the duration of our lives. We may awaken from their influence as from a trance, may forget about them altogether until some sequence of events returns us to them, or them to us, and when we close our eyes and listen to that particular lobe of memory, we can hear them, clear as a bell, singing from their inner perch.
A little sparrow’s body might give out in three weeks, but its impact endures. We see it in other lives, in other works, feel the soft flutter of its wings fueling our kindness for those who live and breathe and, if all goes well, fly in its wake. A poem or painting might occupy us for a minute, and influence us for decades. I want art that intimate and elemental, that reinforcing of affection between kindred big and small, and in these pages I think we’ve gathered a few strains of flight that do just this.
Contributor Kelly Jones says in her poem, “We’re Wireless,” I look out the window and wonder whose death made this possible. Chickpea’s, for one.
Ricky Ray, Founding Editor
Ricky Ray was born in Florida and educated at Columbia University. He is the founding editor of the journal Rascal, and his recent work appears in The American Scholar’s Next Line, Please; Matador Review; Amaryllis; Concis and One. His awards include the Fortnight Poetry Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, a Whisper River Poetry Prize and Katexic’s Cormac McCarthy Prize. His debut collection is forthcoming from Eyewear in 2018. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, three cats and a Labradetter; their bed, like any good home of the heart, is frequently overcrowded.