Joe Sacksteder

Three Little Critically-Endangered Birds


Old Park Service sign on the wall,
Centennial Valley, Montana:


Illustration of one taking flight,
whumpf of wings up and away from this world
so adequate for so long,
then so suddenly hostile, exterminatory,
winging towards mysterioso font EXTINCTION?
like the end of a movie that leaves you 
excited for the prospect
of a sequel. 

1950s aerial survey returned with glad tidings,
a sequel in production: Pacific population of several thousand
trumpeters around Alaska’s Copper River.
Today: 46,000. Conservation status:
Least Concern. Trumpeter swan saved—
and one of many damnations staved off
for now.

But there’s lots of ways to survive:
masquerade as a stick, cling your tiny population 
of twenty-four beneath a single tea tree
two hundred feet above shark-infested ocean
four hundred miles off the coast of Australia
on the sheerest spike of land Earth offers.

Don’t worry, Lord Howe Island stick insect, 
“tree lobster,” our NPR article will find you,
ferret you out, pat us on the back for being so glad 
such a nightmarish creature is still around
to menace us.

No sightings since 1976, but Bambang Darmadja 
chairman of Meru Batiri National Park
cites paw prints, droppings, claw marks,
plants camera traps to capture big cats.
Surprise! they seem to roar, not one cat
not two, but eighty-five or more. 
All emerging at once to put on a show
for the cameras. Falling on their backs,
purring, glad to see their humans after so long
a vacation. Oh dear. 

One species at a time.

November 10th, 2011, IUCN declares
western black rhinoceros extinct.
2018, thermal imaging satellite searching for terrorists
lights up red lava rumbling under 
empty Yaoundé Sport Palace, Cameroon—
healthy rhino herds and refugees from Chad 
found living in sewers below
having survived—thrived!—apparently 
on Fanta runoff and cheese leakage
from sports spectacles above. 

Even the dodo—yes, the dodo—
thought to be extinct for some three hundred fifty years 
—­tricked into forfeiting flight, no match 
for new neighbors on Mauritius—
likewise discovered ex-extinct
by boaters’ bulldogs on a remote island, Mare aux Vacoas,
2020, slowly testing atrophied wings
to lift heavy bodies once again,
search out Earth’s last manless holdout. Failing that, 
perhaps the moon.

July 2015, social media breathless
from a rash of police brutality accidents 
and a summer of social justice setback advances
is overjoyed at the chance to reinforce/telegraph
its values and lose its fucking hive mind
over Minnesota dentist’s slaughter of Cecil
the lion. Subsequent backlash, outrage
that public outrage isn’t ever always only others’ outrage. 
A half dozen Dexter-type shows immediately pitched
to Netflix: poachers poaching poachers. 
Dentist so deeply regrets Cecil’s death /
resultant fallout on his Yelp page
he spends his last $55,000, back to Zimbabwe 
to plant Cecil’s severed head
in Hwange National Park, where it soon
Naaaaants ingonyama!—
sprouts into a brand new fuzzy pride.

So, you see, they’re all coming back to us.

We’ve learned our lessons,
and now glaciers will return to Glacier, roam real slow,
trumpeter swans perch on outstretched benevolent hands,
jobs mate with other jobs to make more little jobs forever,

and grainy, black and white footage from 1933
of what we thought was the last living Tasmanian tiger
will no longer give us any real reason
to shiver.

Joe Sacksteder is the author of the forthcoming novel and story collection, Driftless Quintet (Schaffner Press) and Make/Shift (Sarabande Books), as well as Fugitive Traces (Punctum Books), an album of Werner Herzog audio collages. He’s a PhD candidate at the University of Utah, where he’s Managing Editor of Quarterly West. Recent publications include Salt HillDenver QuarterlyThe Rumpus, and Hobart.