Sarah Spence: Passenger

Passenger pigeons were impossible
to diminish: their dense nomadic flocks
were living proof, and living targets
in shooting tournaments.

The sky was so full of flight
that without even aiming, one shot gun blast
could bring down six. Shipped
along newly-built railroads, their cheap
meat overstocked the American market
until the last nest went cold.

As supplies dried up, Martha’s novelty
made her a celebrity. In Cincinnati,
they offered a thousand dollars
for a mate, and charged admission
to watch a migratory bird waiting.

The last specimen. Packed on a fast train
from zoo to museum, body rewritten
by the taxidermist’s hands — a souvenir
of the passenger pigeon, driven to extinction.


Sarah Spence is a PhD student and editor for literary journal From Glasgow to Saturn. Her poetry and short fiction appears or is forthcoming in Thistle Magazine, Hold My Purse, Knight Errant Press, Gilded Dirt and Qmunicate. She writes about science, history, and our relationship with animals and the ‘natural’.