Treasure Island

Paula Weld Cary

A Country Without Passenger Pigeons

Audubon, this moment is to remember
the passenger pigeon whose tremendous flocks
took hours to pass through your autumn skies,
and though you did not think it possible to diminish
them by mere hunting, it seems important to
remember the many men who with guns and pots
and poles waited at dusk for the pigeons to arrive,
bringing thousands of pigs to be fattened deep into the forest
where decoy pigeons were propped in trees, eyes sewn shut,
where nesting sites were desecrated so squabs fell to the
ground like pelting rain, to be eaten and eaten and eaten
in New York and Philadelphia where markets brimmed
with millions of birds downed by bark peelers and tavern owners
and cooks who had abandoned their jobs to follow them into the
forests of Kentucky and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, into the
dreamy old-growth forests where their scarlet eyes blinked like a
galaxy of stars and their slate-blue feathers covered the branches
like a multitude of leaves, weighing down the trees because
passenger pigeons needed huge flocks to sustain themselves,
weighing down the hickories and oaks because their souls needed
large forests to thrive. Audubon, how strange if you could see
the Kentucky woods now ghosts of what they were, and how strange
if you could see our springtime skies without passenger pigeons
heading north in synchronized flocks so graceful and large
they could startle even the greatest imagination.

Submitted: Monday, October 28, 2013
Edited: Tuesday, October 29, 2013

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(First published in Karamu. Information from Audubon’s journal)

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