Anne Pitkin

Lapland Longspur


Arctic Sparrow
it balances
on a dwarf fireweed.
Hills and sky roll
off the end of the visible world

which tilts
through the implacable
of space, unprotected,
its own laws exacting
and without prejudice.

Even so, a furious
and delicate imbalance
thrives here:

purple aster, harebell,
yellow oxytrope, the Longspur
whose perch trembles
as it lets go and darts to the next.


Some proportions
have no meaning: harebell
to Arctic winter, Longspur
to the urgency of summer
on the tundra’s millions of acres
where it nests,
its home lined
with a puff of wool
from the musk ox.


Fewer and fewer stars set
as one travels
farther north in winter.
The Auroras swing across the sky,
souls, some say,
of children
who have died at birth.
All night, they dance,
all the sunless weeks
they dance in circles
whipping streamers of light
across the land encased
by an adamant darkness.


Tonight, the news
of a death was followed
by a Mozart concerto
for flute and orchestra,

was followed by the music
of Mozart as it has played
through two centuries of loss

for which there is no recompense.

The life of a bird
hurries from sparrow to sparrow.

The Longspur builds
its minute bones with calcium
from the skeletons of lemmings.

Occasionally, on the beach,
it nests in the skull of a walrus

The life of a bird
sometimes hurries from a stutter
of wings to singing that flashes
across an empty landscape.


Point Barrow:
Near midnight, July Fourth,
two boys walk out
on the melting sea ice.

From a distance,
against the white sea,
small and black under the sun,
they seem to be dancing
round and round

on the ice
at its most dangerous.

A few say, when we speak
of the end

of the Longspur, even
of Mozart, a very few say still
the earth may heal itself.


“Lapland Longspur” originally appeared in Ironwood.


Anne Pitkin grew up in Clarksville, TN, and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University. She earned a second master’s from Antioch University in 1988. She has worked both as a community college instructor and as a psychotherapist. Winter Arguments (Ahadada Books, 2011) is her third collection after Yellow (Arrowood Books, 1989) and the chapbook Notes for Continuing the Performance (Jawbone Press, 1977). Her work has appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, and many others. A mother of three, grandmother of two, she currently lives in Seattle, where she plays jazz piano with her friends.

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