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By John Shoptaw

Chimerical, the rhinoceros egret,

its keratin dehorned in South Africa

and container-shipped to Vietnam or China

where it’s ground by aphrodisiasts

and snorted by affluent boneheads,


metamorphs into the hippopotamus egret,

the elephant, Cape buffalo, zebra, giraffe,

the ostrich, and the camel egret,

the deep-domed tortoise, and in the Americas

the cow heron or cattle egret.


Ranging like wildfire over the last century,

a migration prodded by the transmutation

of forests into ranches, the cattle egret

writhes and champs and tilts and plods

and darts in cursive at grasshoppers.


And where its livestock gets concentrated,

decapitated, tenderized, charred, whatever,

the Bubulcus ibis or cattleman wader,

capitalizing on a field without cattle,

reinvents itself as the tractor egret


though the unattached bird is emblem enough

of the other end of extinction, ignition,

when not just its shaggy breeding crest

and breast plumage go up in flame

but its legs, beak, lores, and irises catch color.


Poet Bio

John Shoptaw is the author of a critical study, On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery’s Poetry (Harvard University Press, 1995), and a book of poems on the Mississippi River watershed, Times Beach (University of Notre Dame Press), which won the 2016 Northern California Book Award in poetry. He teaches in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley.

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