Quilt of Birds, by Deborah Kennedy. Pen and ink on paper.
— Deborah Kennedy
The sailors crowded the starboard bow
pointing across the sea
paved with turtle shells
like wet black cobble stones.
Fish crowded the rivers
their gaping mouths
fight for breath in the scrum.
Teeming, steaming, dreaming.
A quilt of birds covered the bay
beating wings took flight
sky black with birds, the sun a ghost.
Feeding, breeding, seeding.
Men shot into the air, no need to aim
the birds fell like heavy rain.
Racket, clack it, crack it.
Bison herds, the prairie’s wooly carpet
sixty million marched as one
thunder in the land.
In just a hundred years
only half still flowed across
the sea of grass.
Then the trains rolled East
loaded high with stinking hides.
In another hundred years
barely two thousand buffalo still stood.
Those massive heads
fortress against wolf and bear
but not the trusty Government rifle.
Men in bowler hats posed
arms akimbo on top of mounds
piled thirty feet high and sixty wide
all bison skulls, horn and bone
white as shells scoured clean by the sun.
Recruiting, shooting, looting.
In a place beyond time sliced by money
hear the bells ringing for an emerald hour
feel the blood rushing through
your living heart.
Grounding, resounding, abounding.