Three Poems

Poetry / Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton


:: Alopochen kervazoi ::

it’s hard to say anything specific
when you ask me
why an eruption translates into snow
how a bark becomes a howl, a howl a yawn
strung out on a clothesline between houses
where the pulp is a wound
the crust sutures with water 
and rocks soften like bread in our throats


:: Mascarenotus grucheti ::

he marches on stilts through the woods at night
to the house he remembers
where he knocks on the door
shaped like an axe carved out of a ledger
in the chimney voices swallow
behind them dawn 
nibbles away at his soles 
until their shadows surrender


:: Dryophthorus distinguendus ::

you unified the kingdom
without a sovereign
everyone became their own 
representative and judge
the pigs and rats 
followed their own laws
the egrets 
sacrificed to the pool


From the writer


:: Account ::

These poems are part of a long series on every recent­ly extinct species.

Alopochen ker­va­zoi

The Réu­nion shel­duck (Alopochen ker­va­zoi, a.k.a. Mas­care­nachen ker­va­zoi) was a species of goose endem­ic to the island of Réu­nion, one of the Mas­carene Islands in the Indi­an Ocean, where it lived in bod­ies of fresh­wa­ter. The species went extinct some­time in the late 17th or ear­ly 18th cen­tu­ry, like­ly as a result of hunt­ing and habi­tat loss. [i] In 1994, Gra­ham S. Cowles iden­ti­fied the bird as a new species, rely­ing on spec­i­mens col­lect­ed in April 1974 by Bertrand Ker­va­zo from a “cave named Grotte des Pre­miers Français (Grande Cav­erne), sit­u­at­ed about 1.5 km south-west from the cen­tre of Saint-Paul.”

In terms of his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences to the species, Cowles writes, “Bon­tekoe vis­it­ed Réu­nion in 1619, and described the island abound­ing with geese (Strick­land & Melville 1848). Dubois vis­it­ed the island dur­ing the years 1671–72 and notes in his jour­nal, ‘Wild Geese, a lit­tle small­er than the Geese of Europe, they have the plumage the same and the beak and feet red’ (Oliv­er 1897). In 1667 Mar­tin record­ed mas­sive destruc­tion and decline of ‘geese’ on the Etang de Saint-Paul (Cheke 1987). Wild ‘geese’ do not exist on Réu­nion today.” [ii]

This and the fol­low­ing two poems are part of a series on every recent­ly extinct species.

Mas­careno­tus grucheti

The Réu­nion owl (Mas­careno­tus grucheti) was anoth­er species endem­ic to the island of Réu­nion. As N. Khwa­ja, S. Mahood, T. Brooks, and R. Mar­tin write for BirdLife Inter­na­tion­al, “This species for­mer­ly occurred on the island of Réu­nion. It was prob­a­bly dri­ven Extinct after the island was colonised in the ear­ly 17th cen­tu­ry, as a result of habi­tat loss, hunt­ing or pre­da­tion by inva­sive species.”

Of its dis­tri­b­u­tion, they write, “Mas­careno­tus grucheti is only known from fos­sils (Cowles 1987) found on Réu­nion (to France)(Mourer-Chauviré et al. 1994), and pre­sum­ably became extinct soon after the island’s coloni­sa­tion in the ear­ly 17th century.”

Of its ecol­o­gy, they write, “Noth­ing is known, though it is like­ly to have been a for­est species.” Of its threats, they write, “Hunt­ing, defor­esta­tion and the depre­da­tions of intro­duced preda­tors may all be impli­cat­ed in its decline.” [iii]

In 1994, Cécile Mour­er-Chau­viré, Roger Bour, François Moutou, and Sonia Ribes iden­ti­fied Mas­careno­tus grucheti as a new species and placed it, along with Strix sauzieri and Strix (Athene) murivo­ra, in a new genus, Mas­careno­tus. They described the genus as very sim­i­lar to the extinct genus Gral­listrix, which inhab­it­ed the islands of Hawaii. [iv]

Dryoph­tho­rus distinguendus

Dryoph­tho­rus dis­tinguen­dus was a species of bee­tle endem­ic to the islands of Hawaii. As C. Lyal writes for the IUCN Red List, “It was com­mon on sev­er­al Hawai­ian islands in 1926 but has not been locat­ed since 1961. The cause of extinc­tion is not known but may include inva­sive species and habi­tat degradation.”

Of its range, Lyal writes, “This species was orig­i­nal­ly described from Hawaii where it was ‘found on near­ly all the islands of the group’. It has not been record­ed since 1961 and is thought to be extinct.”

Of its habi­tat and ecol­o­gy, Lyal writes, “It was prob­a­bly asso­ci­at­ed with trop­i­cal for­est but is now extinct.”

Of its threats, Lyal writes, “The species is thought to be extinct. It was report­ed to be com­mon in 1926 but has not been record­ed since 1961. The threats it faced have not been iden­ti­fied but prob­a­bly includ­ed habi­tat degra­da­tion and inva­sive species.” [v]

[i] BirdLife Inter­na­tion­al 2016. Alopochen ker­va­zoi. The IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species 2016: e.T22729490A95017764.–3.RLTS.T22729490A95017764.en. Down­loaded on 13 Octo­ber 2019.
[ii] Cowles, G. S. 1994. A new genus, three new species and two new records of extinct Holocene birds from Réu­nion Island, Indi­an Ocean. Geo­Bios 27: 87–93.
[iii] BirdLife Inter­na­tion­al (2019) Species fact­sheet: Mas­careno­tus grucheti. Down­loaded from on 13/10/2019.
[iv] Mour­er-Chau­viré, C., Bour, R., Moutou, F., Ribes, S., 1994. Mas­careno­tus nov. gen. (Aves, Strigi­formes), genre endémique éteint des Mas­careignes et M. grucheti n. sp., espéce éteinte de la Réu­nion. Comptes Ren­dus de l’Académie des Sci­ences de Paris série II 318, 1699–1706.
[v] Lyal, C. 2014. Dryoph­tho­rus dis­tinguen­dus. The IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species 2014: e.T6862A21424260.–1.RLTS.T6862A21424260.en. Down­loaded on 13 Octo­ber 2019.

Nathaniel Dolton-Thorn­ton’s poet­ry has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Tin House and Rar­i­tan, among oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He is cur­rent­ly col­lab­o­rat­ing with Yu Yuanyuan, Robert Hass, and Paula Varsano on a book of Eng­lish trans­la­tions of the ninth-cen­tu­ry Chi­nese poet Liu Zongyuan. He stud­ies polit­i­cal ecol­o­gy as a Mar­shall Schol­ar at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cambridge.