Riehlife Poem of the Day: Deborah Digges’ “Darwin’s Finches,” from Vesper Sparrows

Digges was born in Jefferson, Missouri and went on to write poetry that would win awards and attract passionate readers such as Sharon Olds. Learn more about Deborah Digges by clicking here. “Darwin’s Finches is from Vesper Sparrows (1986), her first book. —JGR

Vesper Sparrow by Chan Robbins
Vesper Sparrow photo by Chan Robbins

Darwin’s Finches
by Deborah Digges


My mother always called it a nest,
the multi-colored mass harvested

from her six daughters’ brushes,
and handed it to one of us

after she had shaped it, as we sat in front
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand
of spider’s web, or horse’s mane,

the residue of sheep’s wool in the grasses
near a fold

where every summer of her girlhood
hundreds nested.

Since then I’ve seen it for myself, their genius—
how they transform the useless.

I’ve seen plastics stripped and whittled
into a brilliant straw,

and newspapers—the dates, the years—
supporting the


As tonight in our bed by the window
you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean

the brush as my mother did, offering
the nest to the updraft.

I’d like to think it will be lifted as far
as the river, and catch in some white sycamore,

or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets,
the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects

lay their eggs.
Would this constitute an afterlife?

The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks
off islands they called paradise,

stood in the early sunlight
cutting their hair. And the rare

birds there, nameless, almost extinct,
came down around them

and cleaned the decks
and disappeared into the trees above the sea.

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