Small Graces

— American goldfinch; Winston-Salem, North Carolina

First the horrible, reverberating thud  

against the glass wall of the student union.

Then the discovery, huddled on the sidewalk.

A wonder it hasn’t been stepped on.

Only as I’m holding it do students notice,

a few stopping to ask, Is it dead? No,

just stunned. Probably concussed, tucked in

on itself, black and brassy feathers just as

I remember from my mother’s pocket Audubon.

Her favorite guide for our hikes through the woods

when I was young, listening for meadowlark, for thrush.

She taught me the importance of quiet,

my flipping of the book’s pages, even, too loud.

Behind the closed door of my office, I sometimes

take it from my shelf and leaf through her life list:

a few sheets of spiral notebook paper

tucked inside the front cover. There, in her tight

penmanship, eagles and falcons over Horseshoe Lake,

burrowing desert owls, condors on the coast.

The goldfinch. Here, in my hands. A little

encouragement, gentle tossing motion

by my cupped hand—suddenly remembering flight.

The bird collecting itself for a minute

on a low-hanging branch before skittering off

to a bigger tree, then out of sight. Washing my hands

in the bathroom by my office, I blink at myself

in the mirror. Small graces. Desk clock.

Fountain pen. Old paper, thin and translucent

as onionskin. Nothing to bury or mourn today.

~Jim Whiteside “Life List”

I keep a “life list” of sorts. It isn’t like a birder’s list of species seen, but a collection of those of you who have reached out to me over the decades of my writing.

You dear folks I hear from are as varied as the birds that visit our farm.

Some soar high with adventuresome spirits.
Some are earth-bound, home-loving and egg-providers.
Some are nocturnal while others are early risers.
Some eat only seeds while others prefer worms and grubs.
Some are shy and rarely seen or heard from and others visit every day.
Some sing amazing arias and others squawk and cluck and coo.
Some have been stunned by life and need to be held so gently
until able to fly again.

You all are clothed with a feathery finery,
whether shimmering or flecked with light or simply pure gold.

Each one of you touches my life, sharing some small grace, becoming part of me.

I remember.

Please reach out in a comment here or email directly at


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8 thoughts on “Small Graces

  1. Another ‘home run’ column. You are hitting them daily Emily, thank you!

    I think it’s also nice that the little Goldfinch essay included memory of the author’s mom. Very nice for a continuing Mother’s Day theme.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A couple of Sunday’s ago around 6:30 AM a little green bird (like the one in the first photo) hit my balcony sliding door. I was already up but in the other room. I came to check on the little creature. It had not flown away. It was flopping around until I released its claws from the outdoor carpet. I gently encouraged it and stroked its head with my finger while its heart was thumping feverishly. For the next 20 minutes it rested and opened its eyes occasionally. Finally it turned its head to look at me and flew away to a nearby tree. My iPhone told me it was a towhee but now it’s changed its mind and it clearly wasn’t one. The wings were different than in your photos. I now have decals on my windows to prevent further crashes but I hope he will pop by to say hello.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is a goldfinch on my wedding ring which is a part of the Kaye family crest, a symbol of the passion of Christ as it lives among the Thorn branches. So they are special when I see them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an experience and so like the poem I posted! Maybe some kind of finch? You were indeed a blessing to that bird to rescue it from the carpet and hold it till it revived. blessings back to you, SandRa!


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