M

martha

by Eric Otto

one hundred
years ago
the last passenger
pigeon died
her name
was martha
there is
a photo of her
on the internet
like a gun
it terrifies me
like a
cliff it ter
            rifies me


Eric Otto is an associate professor of environmental humanities at Florida Gulf Coast University. His academic work includes the book Green Speculations: Science Fiction and Transformative Environmentalism (The Ohio State University Press, 2012). His poetry appears in A Hundred Gourds, The Orange Room Review, Prune Juice, Scifaikuest, Stymie, Word Riot, and other places. Find him at ecotto.wordpress.com.

Tell us (please!) anything you can about the origins, writing, revision, and/or anything else about this piece.

I wrote “martha” to honor the upcoming centenary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction. The poem went through several drafts, including longer versions that made reference to the exact date and place of Martha’s death, and the details of the photo referenced in the poem. Ultimately, the poem worked best in a compressed form, which allowed me simply to note the end of the species and then my immediate feeling upon seeing the photo of an endling. The message of “martha,” if I may say, is in that absence of detail.

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