Skip to main content

poetry Patois

Extinction: Lisa Allen Ortiz, child of Mendocino county, California knows a thing or two about birds and about how precarious are the lives of many species, speaks of our impending "civic sorrow."


By Lisa Allen Ortiz

When she spoke, birds came out her mouth,
every word a different species. Thus the civic sorrow
of mass extinction became for her a personal affront—
her vocabulary contracted by 200 feathered words a day.

Her dictionary: A Guide to Birds—glossy plates, antique precision,
aquatints of wings and eyes—all of it so out of date. By then we typed.
In the end, she uttered a few remaining jays and doves.
She stuttered strings of starlings. She cawed a garbage bird

or two, then grew quiet as a tree, sighed a final pair of nesting finches.

We texted our regrets.
We pen-scratched bits on paper and threw them toward her grave.
The air was empty, the grass and branches cheerless ash.

We felt sorry then. We wanted at least a flock of chimney swifts
to empty out her skull, rise mute and furious toward the moon.

Lisa Allen Ortiz is author of Guide to the Exhibit, winner of the 2016 Perugia Press Prize. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2013, Zyzzyva and Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.  She managed to make herself a website if you’d like to visit:

“Patois” is from Guide to the Exhibit © 2016, by Lisa Allen Ortiz, reprinted with permission of Perugia Press, Florence, MA (

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)