Poems by Daniel Hudon

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Once Were Birds

by Daniel Hudon

From Canary Winter 2016-17

Daniel lives on the East Coast, not far from various nesting sites of the endangered piping plover in the Charles watershed.

I dreamt that dozens of extinct birds flew up to my window to have their portraits painted and those who couldn’t fly like the Great Auk, the Dodo, the many Pacific Rails, somehow got themselves up my back steps, through the gate and knocked on my back door. Excellent birds, I thought, how I missed them. Such a din they made, each wanting their turn, boisterous as children blowing bubbles. I had never been a painter – I once dreamt of taking lessons with Picasso – and was surprised to have this honor, the way one is surprised in dreams at some newfound ability that you then take in stride, like flying, and dashed around looking for my materials. All I could find was a black felt marker, no paintbrushes, and near the bottom of a tower of books I found my old sketchbook untouched since an afternoon years ago when I was hiking above a waterfall and drew my boots into the picture to show I was reclining and thereby content, and when I rushed back to the back door I saw the Great Auk now at the bottom of the steps, waddling away, followed by the Dodo and the rails, and the other flying birds, the Hawaiian o’os with their long sliver-of-crescent-moon bills, the much-maligned caracara, the Carolina parakeets, the passenger pigeon, once so close I could feel their wingbeats now scattered into the sky. Wait, I shouted, don’t go, but they kept on leaving and before long they were gone. Sometimes I think I’ve never woken from this dream, and the long silence that followed.

The Extinction Stories: Orange Band, The Last Dusky Seaside Sparrow

by Daniel Hudon

From Canary Spring 2014

In the jar, all is quiet. It can’t hear anything. No traffic, no mosquitoes, no rockets blasting off to the moon. The air is pure though sadly, the wind never blows. The marsh is long gone. Its blind eye lies open, unseeing in its green glossiness. Its head is pressed against the bottom of the jar, yellow beak closed, mottled feathers tussled. Just an ounce of bird, the few notes of its song unsung. A tag on its claw reads:

Dusky "Orange"
Last one
Died 18 Jun 87

The Extinction Stories: The Ivory-Bill Woodpecker

by Daniel Hudon

From Canary Fall 2013

You had to go scouting deep into the swamps and river bottomland woods that once spanned the deep South if you wanted to glimpse the largest woodpecker of North America. Famous as a recluse, the splendid Ivory-bill woodpecker has been described as “nature’s exclamation point, the personification of pizzazz – a full-throated yell of a bird.” Such was its size and majesty that sightings typically inspired exclamations of “Lord God!” and this became one of its nicknames, The Lord God Bird.

Black bodied with a white racing stripe that ran down its head and neck along its back, the Ivory-bill had a gleaming yellow eye and was topped with a brilliant scarlet crest. Nearly two feet long from head to tail, it hopped up and down the sides of cypresses and hackeberries in search of a place to pound its three-inch long bill into the bark for grubs of the long-horned beetle, its favorite food. Its call was tinny but extraordinarily loud, “like someone blowing into a megaphone with the mouthpiece of a clarinet, blasting out single notes that could be heard half a mile away.”

How far did it roam for food? Did it have enemies? What were its courtship rituals? Did pairs mate for life? The high profile sightings couldn’t answer these questions.

With its numbers dwindling due to logging, the State of Louisiana finally began to manage the last remaining habitat of the Ivory-bill woodpecker in the early part of the 20th century. However, the logging rights to the land were held by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company who refused to deal. “We are just money grubbers,” said James F. Griswold, the chairman of the board for Chicago Mill. “We are not concerned, as are you folks, with ethical considerations.”

When the land was logged in the 1940’s, the charismatic Ivory-bill woodpecker went with it.

The Extinction Stories: The Labrador Duck

by Daniel Hudon

From Canary Winter 2013-14

Little is known of the Labrador Duck. Its breeding and mating habits, migration routes, nesting and biology all went unstudied. Perhaps they nested on small, rocky islets off the coast of Labrador. Or perhaps on islands of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. No one described the call of the species.

It was known to taste poorly, with a strong flavor of shellfish. Its bill was colorful: orange with a blue-black tip. The males had a striking black body with black and white wings, a white neck and head topped by a black patch. The female was gray-brown, had white on her wings and a light line behind her eye.

Naturalists disagree on whether the bird was trusting or wary. And whether the last one was shot in 1871, 1875 or 1878.

Where the River Begins

by Daniel Hudon

From Canary Winter 2015-16

The river begins in the sky, in the light of a nearby star, in the thin air before the rain and runs down. The river runs down the sky like a mountain, rains out the cloud, drips drop by drop out of your mind to the mountain where the glacier melts and the water flows into the rain. The rain begins in time, once upon a time, frozen in time, a patient glacier thawing through the centuries. The centuries begin anew every day, the clouds are new and the thousand-year-old rain is new. The clouds begin in the river, running down, the sussurant seconds passing here and there, slipping. The seconds are new, the clouds are new, always beginning, the river is now. The snow falls now. The river begins in a mountain lake, melted from the sky, the glacier recedes like a tongue aflame, the lake begins in the rain. The tongue recites the story of the valley, the valley begins in the glacier long ago, the stones tell the story one pebble at a time. Time is measured in rain drops and snowflakes, smoothing the stones, the river runs down, the clouds exhale. Elk swim the river, bears forage, trees gather on the banks and drink the water. The river is the valley is the mountain is the glacier. The trout begin in the river and wind their way up and down. The wind riffles the river, the water runs cold over the stones, minnows slip past. When the glacier melts the river the rain the valley. The mountain. The river begins in the rain, the sky runs down, the rain takes its time, the snow comes and goes. Starlight rains down, moonlight rains down, the river runs. Beyond the next bend, the river begins again.

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