Poetry Corner: Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon

On the 1st of September 1914 The last passenger pigeon, a female named Martha, dies in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo.

A slow decline between about 1800 and 1870 was followed by a rapid decline between 1870 and 1890. The last confirmed wild bird is thought to have been shot in 1901.

Passenger pigeon shoot

Passenger pigeon flock being hunted in Louisiana.

Flights of Fancy

Cincinnati Zoo 

A Poem by Tom Crawford

Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon

It’s more than hunger,
isn’t it, that wants us to bring down
what flies.

Like the magician pulling pigeons
out of his top hat,
I’d like to bring you back, again
dear bird, to fly and multiply
in our world.

But we are dreamers
and the stuff of stunts and lies,
and this one, well, we can’t shoot our way
out of this one.

Martha, in your little shoe box,
soft feathers, the reds already in fade,
black eyes buttoned up forever,
meat bird, extinct bird. My god,
how rock-final is that?

Our jets are slick and clumsy.
Nothing to compare to a bird
wing so long in coming,
like our opposable thumbs.

What should we hope for, now,
the sky all contrails
emptied of you?

Tom Crawford is a poet from Santa Fe, New Mexico whose latest collection is entitled The Names of Birds (Sherman Asher Publishing, 2011).


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