“Sparrow” by Richelle Buccilli

Richelle Buccilli


I was nine, maybe ten, when I fired my first rifle.
My father took my sister and me to the shooting
ranges, long buildings containing echoes, 
practice outlined in pierced sound like coins 
clapping inside a tin can—only the silver 
is the grass here, ashy tips from dry hands
and fresh smoke, wood pillars pressed in the dirt. Here, 
where every sense was multiplied: sight, sound, 
smell, touch—even the taste of our empty mouths. 
The only thing missing from this was my father’s 
good dog, his German shepherd named Bullet. 
Despite never knowing his childhood companion—
simply a memory I lived through—I loved 
and thought I knew this dog, thought that I missed 
his protection, his loyal teeth. Weekends spent 
at my father’s apartment were like this, sepia 
photographs spread on the glossy table once 
belonging to my great-grandmother—all of his 
furniture used, antique, whatever he could salvage 
after the divorce—but I held mountain images
in my small girl-hand, my father’s younger arms 
draped around Bullet, and here I was clutching
something that could kill me, too: its hollow
body underneath my curled fingers, parallel 
to my feet planted in stone, and I aimed 
toward the target that’s never been alive, 
an imagined desire behind my doe eyes, what 
could I have pretended it to be? I was nine, 
maybe ten, what man could have hurt me already? 
But I learned to pull the trigger, shake sparrows 
from their trees. My father making a woman out of me, 
or the son he didn’t have, I learned to be the daughter
with a weapon meant to make me feel strong. 
Call it instinct, protection, his own needs—
but there’s something about a father teaching 
his daughters to use a gun. I don’t remember how, 
or when we walked out, what was said. I suppose 
I left with some new knowledge, or no idea of 
what I just did. Mostly I think I remember the grey sky, 
the broken fence. Each shivering leaf. I remember 
the groundhog eating clover again, not afraid of the cars. 
Memory wants to keep me like this. On the verge 
of understanding things. When I was ember. 
The daughter just small enough to be saved. 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022


Richelle Buccilli: “I was inspired to write ‘Sparrow’ as a way to help myself heal after a hurtful, I’ll say even cruel, experience. As with many of my poems, I’m not always sure where they are going when I begin, and with this one, I ended up digging deep into an early childhood memory. I think that’s part of the power of poetry: finding connections that are both startling and beautiful.” (web)

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