Lewis and Clark's Magpies
Cara Chamberlain

Four tough birds, plants, and a single prairie dog—this was the entire live haul from the Corps of Discovery.

The avian quartet shimmered green-black, shaking their tails long, preening on the unfinished White House beams. They sang bison stories no one understood unless maybe the president’s caged mockingbird stole their lyrics, and, even then, it’s unclear what Dick, the coddled favorite, could have made of their dialect. Like uncultured poor relations, the magpies pecked at carpets and books. They skirted attempted recapture.

Imagine Jefferson touring the construction zone when one of the group flew down to light on his useless hand. A good tale might end with the joints restored and the birds sent back in gratitude, back, up rivers and over prairies until their beloved bison welcomed them with dust baths and longing snorts.

But this is history. Jefferson’s term ended. The White House was completed. The magpies must have died sometime later, though their lifespan is long and they may have lingered, elderly and forgotten, into Jackson’s America.

Cara Chamberlain lives in Billings, Montana. She is the author of three collections of poetry: Hidden Things (2009), The Divine Botany (2015), and Lament of the Antichrist in a Secular World and Other Poems (forthcoming). Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including The Southern Review, Boston Review, and Tar River Poetry.