Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States 
and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering 
loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s 
ecosystem is unraveling.  
              –The New York Times (September 19, 2019)

As the world’s cities teem
with children—flooding 
our concrete terrains with shouts 
and signs—as the younglings balance 
scribbled Earths above their heads, 
stand in unseasonal rain 
or blistering sun,

the birds quietly lessen 
themselves among the grasslands. 
No longer a chorus but a lonely,
indicating trill: Eastern meadowlark,
wood thrush, indigo bunting—
their voices ghosts in the 
chemical landscape of crops.

Red-winged blackbirds veer
beyond the veil. Orioles 
and swallows, the horned lark
and the jay. Color drains from
our common home so gradually,
we convince ourselves 
it has always been gray.

Little hollow-boned dinosaurs,
you who survived the last extinction, 
whose variety has obsessed 
scientific minds, whose bodies 
in the air compel our own bodies
to spread and yearn—
how we have failed you.

The grackles are right to scold us, 
as they feast on our garbage 
and genetically-modified corn. 
Our children flock into the streets 
with voices raised, their anger 
a grim substitute
for song.

Related Poems

A Field of Finches Without Sight Still Singing

That song comes from sorrow      there is no doubt. 
Bullfinches   in ancient times      had eyes put out
so they would             sing more sweet.       Think of
those    black beads      dropped to earth     coming
to seed       flowers   turning inward    every   single
one of them     without    its     sight.
Stories say      that    moving   in the wind     they
made up song    as if nothing     had been lost  and
this   rings    long   into   the night. Every    sound
we hear    turns   to    a bigger one    and   each   is
true.   We  add   our own   until it is    the  first
din     ever   heard,    the  way       poetry      begins.


They scissor edges of twilight, cutting
black shapes into sky. The wet silver
of quick wings open against eternity,
as if to erase an end with a beginning.

What It Must Have Felt Like

Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.