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.


Copyright © 2021 by Brittney Corrigan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“In September 2019, I came across a New York Times article that begins: ‘The skies are emptying out.’ As I read about the declining populations of hundreds of bird species all across North America, Greta Thunberg’s admonition of ‘How dare you’—addressed to attendees of the UN Climate Action Summit—sounded again and again in my consciousness. As I mourned the loss of the birds, their numbers growing smaller by the year, I wanted to juxtapose that image against the growing numbers of young people—my own two teenagers among them—raising their voices, demanding action to combat climate change, so that they will have a future towards which to fly”
Brittney Corrigan

Judges’ Citation by Camille T. Dungy and Dr. Katharine K. Wilkinson

“Even as ‘Vanishing’ is a requiem for what is lost and what we're losing, the poem is also rallying cry, refusing to erase the efforts of the planet's youth and the many cries for climate justice ringing around the globe.”