Saturday, 27 January 2007

Passenger Pigeon

There are wild pigeons in winter beyond number or imagination,
myself have seen three or four hours together flocks in the air
so thick that even have they shadowed the sky from us¹

Mile after mile of forest dense with the birds,
each tree creaking with hundreds of nests,
white from the droppings.
Whole trees falling and dying.

And the birds such fools, we could pluck them from the sky,
lift them from their nests. Such billions a sign
from God that this was our promised land
and they our larder.

The war that broke our land blinded us to bird-loss.
We thought only of survival as we carried on hunting
provisions for conflict starved troops,
abandoned families.

And still with the loss there were millions,
riches beyond the thought
of our younger European selves.

And we did not think.

We carried on shooting
and we did not think.

When an individual is seen gliding through the woods
and close to the observer,
it passes like a thought,
and on trying to see it again,
the eye searches in vain;

the bird is gone.²


¹ early settler in Virginia ² naturalist, J J Audobon

This poem, which was originally posted on this blog, way back when almost no-one read it, was recently commended in an Envoi Poetry competition, so that seems like a suitable excuse to repost it!

10 comments:

Brian said...

One of the great natural disasters of all time. You have captured the blindness perfectly.

Mandy said...

well worth posting again

_Soulless_ said...

An instance of either learning too late or... well, not even as of yet.

A sobering piece. Thank you for sharing it. Cheers.

Larry Ayers said...

Ah, the lost bird species of this continent... extinct they may be, but birds such as the passenger pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet live on through elegiac prose and poetry written by those who mourn their loss.

desert rat said...

"We did not think" sums it up so perfectly. And even after we've destroyed so many species, we still have an amazing capacity to not think things through before barreling heedlessly forward (they also described our rivers as so thick with salmon that you could could cross a creek on their backs, and now we have fishing moratoriums).

GEL said...

I love watching and hearing birds. This is sad, but well-written. Thanks for re-posting.

Liza Lee Miller said...

Such a sad story. Beautifully captured in your poem.

polona said...

thank you for reposting this wonderful and poignant poem.

Jo said...

Wow, Juliet, just wow.

gabriellebryden said...

wonderful poem but terribly sad :(