The Last Safe Habitat

Craig Santos Perez

 

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Through this lens, it is clear that much more than is often appreciated is at stake in the disappearance of birds. And so we are able to understand in new ways the diverse significances of extinction: What is lost when a species, an evolutionary lineage, a way of life, passes from the world? What does this loss mean within the particular multispecies community in which it occurs: a community of humans and nonhumans, of the living and the dead?

         – Thom Van Dooren, Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (2014)

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I don’t want our daughter to know

that Hawai’i is the bird extinction capital

of the world. I don’t want her to walk

around the island feeling haunted

by tree roots buried under concrete.

I don’t want her to fear the invasive

predators who slither, pounce,

bite, swallow, disease, and multiply.

I don’t want her to see the paintings

and photographs of birds she’ll never

witness in the wild. I don’t want her to

imagine their bones in dark museum

drawers. I don’t want her to hear

birdsong recordings on the internet.

I don’t want her to memorize and recite

the names of 77 lost species and subspecies.

I don’t want her to draw a timeline

with the years each was ‘first collected’

and ‘last sighted’. I don’t want her to learn

about the ʻŌʻō, who was observed atop

a flowering ‘Ōhiʻa tree, calling for a mate,

day after day, season after season.

He didn’t know he was the last of his kind,

or maybe he did, and that’s why, one day,

he disappeared, forever, into a nest

of avian silence. I don’t want our daughter

to calculate how many miles of fencing

is needed to protect the endangered birds

that remain. I don’t want her to realize

the most serious causes of extinction

can’t be fenced out. I want to convince

her that extinction is not the end. I want

to convince her that extinction is just

a migration to the last safe habitat

on earth. I want to convince her

that our winged relatives have arrived

safely to their destination: a wondrous

island with a climate we can never

change, and a rainforest fertile

with seeds and song.

 

 

Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamorro poet from the Pacific Island of Guam. He is the author of four collections of poetry and the co-editor of five anthologies. He is an associate professor in the English department at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa.

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