Sparrows, Breath, Memory: On Writing and Identity

Sparrows, Breath, Memory: On Writing and Identity

November 19, 2019

By Catherine DiMercurio

I’ve been here before, I think. I’ve walked out into a dawn hued like a watercolor sparrow and have felt the ache of remembered hope, the possibility in the open-stroked, penciled in outlines. I’ve felt the simultaneous sink of it, soggy pulped mass of a discarded thing left to mud and puddle.

I think, sometimes, that we are at every moment, poised between perspectives, and sometimes it is unbearable to have to choose, again, how to look at a thing, ourselves, and sometimes it is freeing and joyful to know we can choose.

Our pasts hover and clunk at our backs, guiding and haunting, rattling their chains, whispering intention, wanting peace to be made at every turn. I wonder how much of who we are is the breath of these memories, their exhalation filling our airways and soulways with all that has come before, their inhalation, leaving us confused and empty and peering into each moment, briefly and freshly scrubbed of our pasts, briefly able to be nascent and new before it all comes rushing back and we remember we are everything we were before.

I wonder, how is being a thing people know how to do, and isn’t breathing automatic, and isn’t everyone sparrow-fluttering between moments, trying to catch breath, and sense? I wonder, in which instant, in the inhale or the exhale, we are more ourselves.

I consider what I am now, I consider what I am in the absence of demography and history, almost-fifty divorced mother of two, the way small talk and statistics define me. I consider myself within the context of breath and memory, filled and then emptied, moment by moment.

I remember being a little girl in my parents’ car. I sat in the backseat, looking out the window, with the sun shining in and my head resting against a pane polka-dotted with fingerprints, the whorls of identity, particularity. I had, for a moment, an overwhelming sense of being, of being cognizant of a self hovering in that little body. I am me, I remember thinking, saying it over and over as if I would evaporate if I didn’t, as if I could easily and accidentally fall into being some else, and that seemed, in that moment, a terrible tragedy.

I think every word I have ever written, the piles of notebooks and manuscript drafts and submitted stories, waiting or rejected, all of it, as a straining for breath, an attempt to intake the right molecules and expel what isn’t necessary, and tune that air into understanding and to give it voice, to understand identity and allow it to sing, to warble a little in a watery dawn, to know itself, a little.

Writing this now, thinking of writing and identity in this context, I think of all the stories I’ve wanted to tell, voices I haven’t listened to, selves that have gotten lost in the shadows. I think of my history, and the narratives that I believe to have shaped me, the memories I’ve privileged because of the marks they’ve left and I wonder, quite suddenly, what else is there? I wonder if I’ve only been hearing a few notes instead of the whole song, for so long, because they were the loudest and easiest to hear. In the stillness between inhale and exhale, do all the truths exist at once, equally?

I think of the stillness, when it is not night and not morning, when everything is all greys and browns and softness. I think of breath and identity, mine, and yours. I think how easy it is to fall into being someone else, and what a terrible tragedy that would be.




Catherine DiMercurio is a Midwestern writer with a heart-on-your-sleeve sort of take on the world, as in, let’s be honest about the bizarre and brutal way our hearts work. Her creative nonfiction work can be found on her blog, Chronicles of the Open Hearted ( and at Past Ten. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is currently working on a novel and short fiction.



Up next, Blessings.




Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

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