Project Passenger Pigeon

Lessons from the Past for a Sustainable Future


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Flights of Fancy

Audubon′s “Passenger Pigeons”

Pepper Trail

How odd this choice, Mr. Audubon, to paint
The most abundant bird in the world, a bird
Forming flocks that you wrote took days to pass
And shaded the earth from the sun
That generated a wind felt by men on the ground
And inspired slaughter at their nesting grounds
That strained even your powers of description

How odd to paint that bird in this way
A boudoir portrait, a pair alone
In their intimacy, in the act of bill and coo
The male swooning back, eyes lidded
The beak fallen open to accept the love-offering
Of the female, who bows forward, reaching
Avid to feed her chosen mate

You give us little else, a rotten branch, some dried-up leaves
The background blank, no landscape of forest or hills
No groves of oaks, no approaching flock
Merely this prelude to nest, egg, and chick
This tribute to the power of generation
The whirlwind of feathers and flesh all implied
In that vacancy, its vanishing foretold

Pepper Trail is an ornithologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and a Fellow of the AOU. Trail’s poems have appeared in many publications, including Atlanta Review, Borderlands, Windfall, Comstock Review, and Turtle Island Quarterly.

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