Craig Santos Perez
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)
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.