Bass Clef, Percussion
(Emmet County, Michigan—1878)
East of Petoskey the last swarm of passenger pigeons
curled into the shape of an undulating bass clef,
circled strings of meadows, and nesting woods.
The moment after the painting captured,
men strung over forty miles raised rifles.
blasted echoes over other blasts. It was a sunrise to sunset
wall of percussion, antagonistic to the hearing of hundreds
of hunters there to clear out avian traffic. Dead and dying
birds carpeted the ground in such concentrations
men inadvertently stepped on one to avoid stepping
on another. Carcasses filled barrels, barrels stuffed a line of wagons
that ferried them and passengers to ad hoc processing stations
back in town. Then they loaded ships. Chicago’s restaurants
awaited the incredible yield. An epic field day by any measure.
Fast forward one spring: no Passengers pass through,
not a clef or a ribbon, a line or a vee formation
numbering even a platoon of them. If solitaries survived,
no one saw. Step into shade below this particular tree-line.
Here riflemen waited while the painter documented
the sky at its most populous. A target-rich environment.
Day of the historic wipe-out, before they opened fire.
Todd Mercer was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. Mercer won 1st, 2nd & 3rd place of the Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Prizes and the won Grand Rapids Festival Flash Fiction Prize. His chapbook Life-wish Maintenance is posted at Right Hand Pointing. Recent work appears in: The Lake, The Magnolia Review, Praxis and Softblow.
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