Journal of Writing & Environment

“Portrait of Pioneer Woman as Eskimo Curlew”



after Aviary (Eskimo Curlew/extinct), a c-print by Sara Angelucci, 2013


Was it a trick of light that turned her freckles

into feathers? Delirium that made her see

a beak sprouting where her nose once was?


Now she avoids her reflection

in the mirror above the basin.

On their first trip into town, it’s her husband


who insists on the portrait, a memento

to send back home. And so she sits,

glad she curled her hair and starched crisp pleats


into her one good collar. The photographer

positions her looking over her shoulder

as if she were any other farmer’s wife.


Later, holding the stiff card, she sees it again:

the way her face pinches inward,

its feathers dappled as prairie grass in sun.


A black beak turns down like a bent needle.

On her chest, each cinnamon feather

fans into brown. But her ear


is still delicate as porcelain.

Was it the jostling of the wagon

all those miles that hollowed out her bones?


She studies the photograph—

the curved lines at her sides, just before the crop—

feels her skin for tender budding wings.