“Leave me / a feather to dream on, a map to follow”

by Julia McDaniel
MFA candidate in creative writing, Helen Zell Writers’ Program ’21, 2021 Hopwood Graduate Poetry Award winner

The poems in Zilka Joseph’s Sparrows and Dust invite us to look more closely: to search for residue, for ripples, for prints, for all the subtle and surprising evidence that something beautiful and fleeting was here before it left. By noticing the different birds that are always coming and going, from the ubiquitous kingfisher to the unexpected osprey, and the way they leave small traces of themselves and create patterns in strange landscapes, the speaker in Joseph’s poems both makes more of a home in the Michigan summer and grows more attuned to the memories—the lasting presence—of the places she has left and her departed parents. In “For the Birds,” Joseph writes, “Leave me / a feather to dream on, a map to follow,” and indeed, she can craft a map from a flap of wings, a silver thread, or even a pink beak, and invite us to traverse it alongside her.

Sparrows and Dust came out in April 2021, published by Ridgeway Press. You can find the book at Literati or your local independent bookstore. We hope you will join us in celebrating 2008 CEW+ Elsie Choy Lee Scholar Zilka Joseph by reading her book and listening to the CEW+ podcast Strength in the Midst of Change: Arrival, Departure featuring Zilka Joseph.