Get NiftyLit news & updates delivered directly to your inbox. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Skip to main content
Original artwork by Rowan Bartolomei

Self-Portrait as Spider, Castaway, Sparrow

Jennifer Brown

I was almost another person then. It was almost another life. So long ago that a child, if I’d borne one then, would be grown now. Alone in one of the rooms I lived in alone, I cried—I could still cry then—to feel how far away I was from anyone. The days long, & nights, I spun a line to lodge somewhere, to anchor, as if a raft in the Pacific could hook with a handmade rope to ocean floor. As if that were safety. 

The sparrow comes to the camellia at four a.m. & sings a three-note song. I felt like a bird warming up in the dark. I was so young. Thought every moment was a fractal of forever. Thought forever was a something that a word could contain. Had seen the feathered body of the flicker that died in the chimney, the wax faces of great-grandmothers in satin-lined boxes.

The sparrow sings the song its throat is shaped to sing. What it means, I’m not sparrow enough, nor tuned enough to sparrowness to tell. It sings adjacent to me, as I’m adjacent to other people, near but not involved. 

I practiced my three-note song. No anchor caught firm, but I came to hear an answering strand of notes strung into the muffled night—from somewhere, the yes