"there's no through trail" —Han-Shan, translated by Gary Snyder

Bird Country
by Claudia Buckholts

Issue: Spring 2017

Bird Country


In the bird country, I feel hard beaks
peck against my skin, a hovering

softness of down. Stubby feathers
sprout from my back and arms, turn

into wings, and I shrink from what
I was. My new companions instruct

me in flight, as they teach fledglings,
and gravity’s heft, how to soar through

turbulent acres of air. I migrate with them,
wheel south to rainforests where dazzling

relations warble exuberant scales, north
to the tundra to banquet on mosquito clouds.

Song’s the habit in this country; each tribe
sings uniquely. I master what repertoire

I can, trills, glissandos. With this avian
crew, I range scudding clouds, exchange

tales of flight. In their tutelage, I explore
the tasks of air. We learn to love our

brief bird lives, and the great winds
that sweep us across this world.


Claudia Buckholts has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and the Grolier Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Harvard Magazine, Indiana Review, Minnesota Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and other journals; and in two books, Bitterwater and Traveling Through the Body.