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Bird in the Hospital

As the songbirds of spring fill the air and unusual spaces, Lifetime Learning shares more creative writing from the University of Virginia‘s esteemed faculty. Lisa Russ Spaar is a Professor and Director of Creative Writing and Director, Area Program in Poetry Writing in the Department of English in the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She shares her poem, “Bird in the Hospital.”


I often walk over from my office in a building just off the Lawn to get coffee at the Higher Grounds shop in the Primary Care Center of the UVA Hospital. There’s also nothing like visiting a hospital to put all of the small things that irk and the big human questions in perspective. My path there takes me down a glassed-in walkway, and on the particular day this poem depicts there was a kind of craft and accessories bazaar set up along the walkway, thronged with healthcare personnel, families of patients, passersby, and patients themselves. As I strolled, my eye caught something flitting up high by the ceiling. Someone else saw it, too — a young woman, prone in a wheelchair. Our both seeing the bird that others did not see was a powerful moment for me, and the poem is an attempt to write about the nature of that connection, a meditation on different meanings of entrapment and freedom.

Bird in the Hospital
Primary Care Center, University of Virginia

Glassed-in atrium walkway from clinics
to cafeteria, today transformed to souk,

kiosks of cheap scarves, nickel wrist cuffs,
rings, tote bags for sale to tired nurses, scrubs,

patients, families in denial, fatigue, so many
reasons to pay for what diverts. I’m seeking coffee,

escape from me within this infected theater
of What’s-at-Stake, so at first I think retinal floater,

mistake, bit of code gone rogue, throating
lamp fixture, high sill. She sees it too, girl arching

in her wheeled chair, face a fallen moon,
limbs deflated, albumen eyes aflare with the amphetamine

of this taunt scythe whooshing over us,
wee cross doubled in the unblinking thunder of her irises.


© Lisa Russ Spaar
This poem first appeared in Plume Poetry. No. 7
Canisy Press, 2019