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