This poem was written outside the fishbowl sessions. It has been sponsored by Shirley Barrette. You can find the other Fledgling Grace poems via the Serial Poetry page.
Browse the extinct bird species: Carolina parakeet, dodo, and upland moa. Browse the Carolina languages, Carolina tribes, and Chicora. Browse the Maori iwi, Ngāi Tahu, and Tākitimu. Read about the shadows of Hiroshima and see some pictures.
WARNING: This poem touches on extinction and other atrocities. Some of the imagery is sublime and some is harsh. If those issues are triggery for you, then you might want to skip it.
It took a while after the Fledging
for people to realize what had happened,
as they began tracking the types of wings
that appeared on their backs and
matching them to species of birds.
Most people had the wings of common birds,
or at least birds that had once been common
in the land of their ancestors.
A few had the wings of less common birds.
Then, gradually, there came reports
of individuals with unidentifiable wings,
or even small groups of people
all with the same unusual type.
It was a shock to discover --
even after the astonishment
of sprouting wings in the first place --
that some of these belonged to extinct species.
There were Carolina Indians --
mostly the Carolina Siouan tribes
of the Chicora, Cheraw, and Waccamaw --
with the glimmering turquoise wings
of Carolina parakeets.
They drifted in from near and far,
flocking to the historic sites and memorials,
chittering in their sweet native tongue
and saying that something had drawn them here,
back where their ancestors had lived and died.
A few Dutch families bore
the small, fluffy, brownish-gray
wings of dodo birds.
It was something of a relief at first
to have wings tiny enough to hide
under a jacket or a shawl,
but once the wings became ubiquitous
people tended to stare at anyone
who showed none.
According to family history,
their ancestors had traveled to Mauritius
back in the 17th century
and seen the birds alive
before assisting in their extinction.
Well, what was there to say? Sailors got hungry.
The largest of the Maori iwi, the Ngāi Tahu
from the South Island of New Zealand,
had moa wings with silky hairlike feathers
of dark bronze or black, speckled with white.
They gathered together and told stories
of hunting and being hunted through
the high-altitude beech forests of the island,
of sailing and navigation and
the legends of the migration canoe Tākitimu.
These wings weigh on the conscience of humanity,
as heavy as a mariner's albatross,
grim and glossy reminders of what has been lost
and yet found again, all unlooked-for,
inescapable grace embracing our bent shoulders.
Their shadows flap against walls
and drape over stone steps,
like the vapor-ghosts of Hiroshima
haunting one of history's great atrocities.
Yet the hand of God
what has once been written;
all that has ever been,
lives within us,
waiting to be recalled.
their tiny, impossible wings
and the past fledges anew
into the future.