Carole Giangrande

Masks | Murmuration | Pairs

Sparrow Jazz | What Hurts


Sewing masks, cutting cotton T-shirts—
innocent, before we imagined
soft pleats gathering our breath

in fear. Pinning of pattern, marking, basting,
comforting hum of hand wheel,
spool pin, bobbin winder,
pressing cloth into a seam,

and seeing in my hands, my mother’s,
easing my dread. Hearing the steady
purring of her Singer, needle bobbing
       through the evening news,
my dad in his easy chair, eyeing her careful pressing
of silk and lace, the soft intrusion of a hissing iron
over the TV anchor.

A stillness about the two of them,
old stitchwork, garment of years.

In the simplicity of everyday,
they must have loved each other.

They lived through a war.
Her, sewing like this. Him an engineer
for battle. Once done,
they never spoke of it again.

My masks are soft,
sewn with care, practical things.
They come from my mother, unfolding like fans
into silence.


Early morning in the time of the plague,
gray sky rippling darkness, a million
starlings swaying in rhythm against the falcon’s

predatory flight, rising, folding in unison,
shifting into unimagined contours, sinuous
dance of living cells. My eye a microscope, seeing

into their depths, into what endless time
has made of creation: wonder and terrible light—
in moments of fear, the grace to form a single mind,

to shape their avian bodies into one bird’s skyful
of flight. Delicate bending, turn of wing,
evading the falcon’s darting speed, its power

to destroy. Had it been afternoon, had they been blinded
by sunlight from the west, the falcon might have snatched them
from the sky, but not this morning, not when their gracious

and singular mind formed them into the hidden alphabet
of what they were and always will be. And so they fly,
a blessing on this earth. Alive, at least for now.

* the flocking of thousands of starlings in spectacular shape-shifting patterns, believed to be a means of protection against predators. The phenomenon is not well understood.


Crossing the footbridge, an elderly pair,
       canes in hand,
ancient as tortoises on sun-warmed rocks.
They were first; I’ll follow them,
but they pause—grasp the railing, leave no room to pass.

In the creek below, something
has caught their attention. I wait, standing
at twice the required distance.

Be polite, I warn my feet,
while my eyes attend to a tiny pair of buds
on a weedy locust

and when I look up, the couple has left.
It is then that I notice in the stream below
two mallards: signal-green flash
of the male’s head, his gentle mate,
soft wooded brown in the light
of waning day.

Sparrow Jazz

What do we know about anything?
Take, for example, the chattering of sparrows.
We think it’s small talk: nest crashes, hawk scares,
feeder trays with room for a dozen; in their calls,
the cheeping monotony of smoke alarms,
bank machines
                                           but sometimes
                                           you hear jazz,
shifts in pitch and tempo telling you
that maybe what they’ve got to say
is red-hot.

                                           Let’s just assume
it’s sunrise, their branch a late-night spot
for jamming, musical inventions. That twitter you hear
on your morning walk
                                           may be a new rendition
of an ancient song passed down
from sparrow to sparrow, woven
into the spiral ladder of generations. Avian tales
of the dinosaurs, behemoths, beginnings
of luminous feathers, reptiles softening into flight,
ancestors nimble enough to flee
the asteroid that killed the rest.
Birds sing with the spacious memory
of their kind, tell us what their bodies inherit—
a terrible urgency troubling the air.
Something is about to end. Take wing.

What Hurts

after listening to Black friends talk about racism

How raw with cruelty
the world becomes
when you pay attention.

You can’t un-feel
the breath of anguish,
can’t remove the weight
of having heard.

When the whole body listens,
what hurts is the newness
of a space in the heart
for pain such as this.

What hurts is the word
made wounded flesh—
the need to wear it
until we are awake enough
                      to end this nightmare.

Carole Giangrande’s poems have been published in Grain, Spiritus, The New Quarterly, Braided Way, Queens Quarterly and Prairie Fire. She has published ten prose books, including Midsummer (Inanna Publications); Missing Persons and An Ordinary Star (Cormorant Books); and A Gardener on the Moon (Quattro Books). She won the Independent Publishers Gold Medal for Literary Fiction in 2018 for her novel All That Is Solid Melts Into Air and shared the Silver Medal for Literary Fiction in 2020 for her novel The Tender Birds, both from Inanna Publications. Her first poetry collection, This May Be The Year, is forthcoming from Inanna too. Visit her website at

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