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‘Dead Sky in the Mourning’ – World Animal Day Poem 2018

Susan Richardson is World Animal Day’s poet-in-residence and in this specially written poem for World Animal Day 2018, she focuses on the tragic extinction of an iconic bird, the passenger pigeon. At the bottom of the page you can click on the link to hear Susan reciting ‘Dead Sky in the Mourning’. 

“In the mid-nineteenth century, billions of passenger pigeons still nested, flocked and migrated through North America – yet by 1914, following uncontrolled hunting and massacre on a monumental scale, it had been declared extinct. Brutality and poignancy infuse all human-induced extinction stories but this one, in view of the bird’s vast numbers and the rampant greed that effected its demise, seems to me to be especially tragic. The poem’s written in the voice of the sky through which the colossal flocks of passenger pigeons once flew, and which is still grieving for their vocal, sociable, colourful presence.”

Dead Sky in the Mourning

In times gone by I was fluent in them –
for five days and nights I recited their flight,
projecting them as far as Mexico and Cuba.
I knew them off by heart – every fledged inflection,
each beaked phrase and glide.
I narrated an epic of them,
three hundred miles long and a whole mile wide,
shimmers of winged syllables flung from my tongue,
an iridescent endlessness of feathers.

Then, a competing flock of Greed invaded,
craving cheap speech to feed to pigs and slaves.
Greed broke my flow with eyes sewn closed,
choked my soliloquy with liquor-soaked grain,
squeezed all skying silent.
And when just one rust-stained cluck remained,
Greed conferred on it a special name
                  – Martha –
after the first First Lady of the United States.

         And now I am lost for birds. All I
      can do is spit
                    stars. Belch planes. Exhale
              vapour trails of grief and pain.
      My head’s clogged with clouds.
                 The moon’s lodged in my throat. 
        I   can’t       even 
                 bother   to     blue.

  Listen to Susan reciting ‘Dead Sky in the Mourning’. 


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