Quills and Feathers

Upland Sandpiper

Who knows how it came to be gathered here;

slender-necked shorebird of the dry grasslands,

clear indicator of high-quality habitat. That once

a machine has scraped the last stalk and stone,

it would vanish before the smoke has settled.

We pretend, shrug, turn a blind eye to wild shadows.

Here, we can swallow past omissions, celebrate

its silhouette, its distinct habit of raising its wings

upon landing, as if to say this is my inner court, my

summer echo, where I breathe grass, undiminished.

Sandpiper, Upland

Bartramia longicauda

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The Upland Sandpiper is indeed peculiar, as a member of a "shorebird" family who is itself more at home among the Western Meadowlarks and Dickcissels of the Midwestern grasslands, where its unworldly whistle still renders the prairie a little wilder than we have become used to. This poem is both an attempt to recapture some of that "undiminished" wildness, and to put it in its post-industrial perspective, within a more blighted time of a human "blind eye," of "past omissions," and of an ongoing pretence that things are still okay since the Upland Sandpiper can still be seen. (Especially effective is the play on words in which the bird is "vanish[ing] before the smoke has settled"—incorporating both a clichéd figure of speech and a sinister intimation of industrial pollution.)

Bibliographical information

Author: Hansen, Twyla (1949-)Johnsgard, Paul A. (1931-)

Book: Prairie Suite: A Celebration

Date: 2006

Publisher: Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center

Project Information

Genre: Poetry