The Lord God Bird

Finis Origine Pendet

Maeve Kennedy '24
February 8, 2022

Louisiana, 1944


They say my father is dead —


Generations of men before me lie limp in the swamp-grass.

Not ten of them were good enough to stay.


Men came with rifles and chewing tobacco;

Old, half-taken by gout;

Young, whooping to their comrades

After a day of bang! Shooting

Fast, dark bullets that threw our mothers limp on the ground

Into their grimy hands:

“I bagged a good one, show Liza back home.”


More came, too —

In wagons, in trucks that spewed greasy smoke

Into our eyes.

They heard our calls,

The song for danger:


“Goddamn, those birds are loud.”

Trees swung to the forest floor.

Mammoth machines ran through the empty earth they left —

Back then we didn’t know their names.

More steam, more smoke;

They used our wood to lay the tracks.


We starved like my grandfather,

Who chipped through his kidnapper’s

Table — This time, we had no choice.

We did slowly in those days.


(Interlude: I once heard,

When I was young,

When there were more of us,

That the murderer women wore our feathers

On their hats.)


One day I’ll find another

Like me —

A woman with a black crest,

Elegant, long wings that swoop patterns in the sky.


We’ll build our nest in a tree corpse —

Solid, supple wood.

I’ll clasp her beak, hold her closes

On rainy evenings.


One day they’ll all come to see us.

We’ll soar from sun-soaked trees

In Louisiana heat,

Unfurl our painted wings


And cry into the blue morning,

We’re here! We’re here! We’re here!

And they’ll shout again, as they always did, “Lord God! What a bird!”


I want to hear the triumphant trumpet

Of a golden beak I

Want to feel the embrace

Of war-hardened hands

Under a baldcypress I

Want to know that when we are gone

They will remember us.  


Maeve Kennedy ’24 was named a Lamont Younger Poet in 2021. The Lamont Younger Poets Prize is bestowed annually on select preps and lowers who show exceptional promise as well as achievement in the early years of developing their craft. The poem was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.