A Prayer for Birds Dying in Darkness and in Light

Another one from Gospel of Galore, courtesy of Coffeedrome:

from The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds

These words are sacred to the memory of one
rail bird, flying full throttle, tracing the prairie’s throat
up a slight rise, over the cornflowers, into barbed wire.

And also to the memory of one golden eagle, age two,
caught in a leg trap in the Willamette marsh, and seven
semi-palmated plovers killed in seven nights’ migration,
striking the shuttered lighthouse in Newport.

For the osprey who dove and locked his talons too deep
in the side of a king salmon, for the salmon who swam down
away from the horrifying sky, for the drowning of the osprey,
the dying of the salmon, hear our prayer.

For the airborne weasel who bit the redtail who carried it
aloft, or the captured rattlesnake who bit the redtail who bit it first;
for the two dead redtails, a moment of silence.

(See Stoddard and Norris [1967] for a list of 29,400 birds
killed in migration at a Florida TV tower. See Crawford [1974]
for reports of an additional 5,550 birds killed at the same tower.)

Deliver the migrating owl from the piercing antenna,
the darting swallow from the lethal golfball, the rose-breasted
grosbeak from the picture windows, no lifeprint sliding
down the glass.

Consider the ravens of the air, and how they are fed,
and how they are fed strychnine. The common crossbill loves
the salt spread on highways to melt the ice. The red crossbill,
the evening grosbeak too. Bright corpses cover the median strips.

Bless the robins and waxwings drunk on chinaberries,
fluttering on their backs, the fluid from fermented fruit
running from their mouths.

Rest in peace, ring-necked pheasant killed or worse
by the mowing machine. (One male survived with both feet cut
off and was in good health when shot by a hunter.)

Ask intercessions for the northern gannet who choked
on the spiny gurnard, the dorsal fin too cruel for the throat.
The next island over, an old eider starved when the mussel
closed its shell on his tongue.

Heroic, the flock of common loons that landed
on the destroyer’s deck, wings encased in ice. Ill-fated,
the yellow-throated warbler flying through the cypress lagoon,
entangled in the golden web of the Carolina silk spider,
looking back and forth to the seven nearest leaves, dying.

An hour of silence for the five million Lapland longspurs,
dead in a snowstorm, March 13 and 14, 1904, landing in quiet
throes over Indiana stubblefields.

Beware, tiny ones, of flying too low into high flipping
waves, of alighting at noon on hot asphalt roofs. The fuzz of
your feathers, the color of bathtub rings, soddens down to
damp dirt. Creatures who weigh nothing die, rot, soak up rain,
become heavy.

Blessed be the ruby-throated hummingbird, impaled
on purple flowers of pasture thistle, or caught by dragonflies,
snatched by frogs, caught by praying mantises.

Remember the robin who returned to the same Maine
yard two summers in a row, a twig sticking out of her back.
Consider one robin in the trap in New York, the large thorn
in its throat.

For American kestrels, the leading causes of death
include mobs of bluejays, cats, lightning, windows, cars, and
locomotives. And lest we forget, the barred owl iced in her
hole, slowly dying as the snow fell beyond her final window,
fast and wide, like champagne bubbles, only downwards.

Prayers rise, like smoke, like birds. Heaven, deliver
them. Life, show them mercy. Circumstance, be kindly. May
they die in their sleep, warm in their nests, or folded in the sea.


One response to this post.

  1. That’s an opus. An anthem. Beautiful!


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