Cheryl Smart


Power walking her suburban Memphis neighborhood, she rounds a corner to find a sparrow flittering at the edge of the curb.  She kneels down, cradles the bird in her hands, and feels a tiny heart thrash wildly in fear.  She makes soft clucking sounds to sooth the poor thing.  She cups the bird’s silky wings inside her palms and groans under the burden of her place in this world.

Her formative years were spent on a family farm seventy miles due east of Memphis.  There was an abundance of wildlife, but not concentrated like it is here in the city.  Her father sometimes let her trail along on evening walks.  With him, she learned to see things in nature the way they were meant to be.  Once, they watched a red fox trot along the tree line, as quiet as a whisper, on its way to feed a den of pups.  A clean kill of a fat rabbit dangled from its muzzle.  The fox was healthy, even in motherhood.


On nights she can’t sleep, she sits in her fenced back yard, just on the edge of city noise, but quiet enough in its suburbia.  She hears the same sounds of the farm – chirruping crickets, the hum of katydids that many find annoying, deep throaty noises of a strong frog population, hoo-hooing of a neighborhood owl, and the harmonious ooo-eeee-ooo-eeee of cicadas.  There are even water sounds from the drainage ditch behind her house that empties into the Wolf River, and swarms of mosquitos, beastly bloodsuckers that gave her the West Nile virus last summer.  Behind her Memphis home is not much different than behind the old farmhouse where she grew up, if she keeps her eyes closed.

She feels boxed in back there after a while and moves to the front porch, a real Mediterranean beauty, custom-made stained glass windows flank the entryway, two white doves on the window to the right, and one to the left are meant to represent the original owner’s three loving daughters.  She can spend an hour or two there on the porch swing, but soon, she feels closed in again.  She migrates closer to the sidewalk and sits atop the bricks edging a well-groomed flower bed.  It’s 3am when she notices a canine shape moving in a lazy lope toward her.  The neighbor’s golden retriever, Merlin, must have slipped through his fence again, but closer, she recognizes the familiar form.  She stays quiet and still, the way her father taught her.  The fox trots by, just a few feet away, when it catches her scent.  It seems rude not to greet an old friend.

“I don’t suppose your late night visit has anything to do with the young family that just moved in down the street with the free range chickens in their yard?”

The fox pauses momentarily, sniffs the air, and tosses a haughty glance.  It picks up the pace again, most likely headed to the wooded park just north of there, or across the thoroughfare to Wolf River.  She offers the fox blessings of protection.


Across town, there’s a meeting of powerful women from the mega churches of Memphis.  They’ll be discussing the strategy of a volunteer tutoring program designed to improve student performance in twelve Memphis schools slated for state takeover, schools in the lowest five percent of all schools in the state.  The meeting is held at an upper class neighborhood, or at least solidly higher middle class.  Before the women, dressed June Cleaver style complete with pearls and heels, discuss their tutoring methods and progress, they discuss the wildlife “problem” in the city.

“We’ve been having a problem with armadillos.  Last week, my husband and I heard one scrounging around the house, so we went out and pelted it with rocks.  We finally hit it in the head enough to knock it unconscious, and trapped it there underneath some old netting until the pest control guy could come take care of it.”

“We’ve been having a problem with raccoons,” another woman says. “We finally got traps for them.”

“What do you do when you catch them?  Call pest control?  Release them into the wild?”

“No,” the woman says. “We drown them in the pool.”


The sparrow’s heart slows until it stops.  She finds a patch of soft moss and gives last rites.

God says not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from Him.

She lays it down and walks away.