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Poem of the Month - July 2002
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Present Things*
from Scissor, Paper, Woman

There is the corpse of something
like an effigy of her
stuffed with wood-fibre
propped by rods standing
on perpetual exhibit at the Nature Museum

And as though some loss might be prevented
the bird has been mounted
wired to alarms in a theft-proof glass cabinet

Passenger Pigeon
Passenger Pigeon

A passenger for once that pigeon
dazed and weak from shifting winds
folded her wings and hid
in the steam-warmed chink of a black locomotive

The engine stamped '1914' **
was the one that carved woodlands
the one that sliced prairies and ran
roping mountains and ribboning canyons with iron

The one that shrieked punctual warning
down all the sundrunk summer days
and howled baleful threats
through dark and long and lonely winter nights

The one that went leaving the immigrant
all his worldly goods cast
around him in satchels
on remote station platforms
the one that trailed echoes in empty valleys
and a signature of smoke...

The one that would skirt
the salt-sprayed coast at last
and turn and begin
unravelling the country again

It carried her into the country
we're headed for
the future
we know she flew before us

That hot-blood bird lived by fast desire
for seeds for berries
then fuelled on them ravaged
crop-fields and orchards

Consuming all fruiting earth she raced
in hungry migratory twisters
nevermind winters summer droughts bad harvests

Heedless she was
madness feathered
an impetuous blitz of appetite
farmers hated her species near numerous
as all other birds combined

And so in a rage
for sport or feathers
for the taste of her meat
the world took aim
and shot

Sleek-necked and amber-eyed
with a russet breast and mottled mantle
in fragile abundance
she flourished once
on earth with us

But only lately have we come to mourn
the savage passage
of that common dove
whose glory was
the love of present things

* Based on a reading of "On a Monument to the Pigeon", a passionate elegiac essay on the Passenger Pigeon, by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, 1949.

** Presumed year of extinction of Ectopistes migratorium -- the Passenger Pigeon.

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