Posted by: atowhee | November 21, 2021


The White-headed Woodpecker
by Sean Hill

Quiet. Given to prying more than pecking, an odd member
of the family, lives only in the high pine forests of western mountains like the Cascades, where I spent an afternoon
almost a decade ago in Roslyn, Washington looking for whatI could find of Black people who’d migrated from the South
almost a century and a quarter prior. The white-headed woodpecker doesn’t migrate and so is found in its
home range year-round when it can be found. Roslyn, founded as a coal mining town, drew miners from all over
Europe—as far away as Croatia—across the ocean, with opportunities. With their hammering and drilling to extract
a living, woodpeckers could be considered arboreal miners. A habitat, a home range, is where one can feed and house
oneself—meet the requirements of life—and propagate.
In 1888, those miners from many lands all in Roslyn came
together to go on strike against the mine management.And so, from Southern states, a few hundred Black miners
were recruited with the promise of opportunities in Roslyn,many with their families in tow, to break the strike.
They faced resentment and armed resistance, left in the darkuntil their arrival, unwitting scabs—that healing that happens after lacerations or abrasions.
Things settled down as they dosometimes, and eventually Blacks and whites entered a union
as equals. Black save for a white face and crown and a sliver of white on its wings that flares to a crescent when they
spread for flight, the white-headed woodpecker is a study in contrasts. Males have a patch of red feathers
on the back of their crowns, and I can’t help but see blood.

Copyright © 2021 by Sean Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
“This poem exists because I was invited to write a poem about the white-headed woodpecker for the forthcoming anthology Cascadia: A Field Guide through Art, Ecology, and Poetry (Mountaineers Press, 2023). This poem exists because I’m a Southern Black man who’s called other parts of the country home. This poem exists because I’m always looking for some kind of lineage in those places. This poem exists because I like to watch birds be themselves in the world.”
Sean Hill
Sean Hill is the author of Dangerous Goods (Milkweed Editions, 2014), which won the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Montana, where he lives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: