Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future

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Flights of Fancy

A Poem by David Coates

The Last Flight of the Passenger Pigeon

If you happened to be standing under the flock
when it flew over you couldn’t hear for days.

Initially it would look like smoke from the Indian camps
but its shape would change,
as if storm clouds were rolling in over the prairie,
their sound approaching like distant war drums.

One flock would stretch for a hundred miles
across the sky eclipsing the sun
as their wings moved in unison becoming one body.

They say that birds aren't meant to sweat
but these ones would be foaming like thoroughbreds.
And if you hadn't anticipated the cloud’s movement
and were caught under it the sweat would rain on you
while the sound would be like fists to your ears
shuddering through your core
until their beat matched your panicked heart.

We thought those first hunters brave.
They would stand against the onslaught
with raised rifles defying the mass.
It was easy game and easy money.
Of course none of them can hear now.

But after a time the cloud wouldn’t stretch so far.
It would filter the sun not eclipse it
and the sound wasn’t nearly as scary as we’d told our kids.

Eventually it never came back.
They became like any other bird
trying to mark their territory in the sky.
And the only smoke rising on the horizon
would be that of the trappers.

Until there was only one,
caged and on display at the local zoo: Martha.
And when she fell
even the deaf ears heard it

(Return to Flights of Fancy entry page)