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For Martha, the Last of Her Kind

By Cynthia Zhang

You see me now, cold and still behind glass, and you think: how sad it must have been, to live like that. How lonely, to be the last of your kind yet trapped behind lock and wire, never knowing the world beyond brief moments perched on the hands of a captor.

Truth be told, as captivities go, mine was hardly taxing. Mesh webbing separated me from the outside world, but my exhibit was spacious and clean, filled with fresh water and all the food I could wan. Though I was but a small plain bird, keepers and doctors fussed over me daily, solicitous to my every ache or desire.

Once, my kind had been infinite, our flocks so thick we rivaled the sun. By the time I arrived, there were only a sparse clutch of us left, scattered between zoos and universities. When my companions died, they took with them any chance for any after.

Yet there were consolations, even in those last days. The brightness of the sun; the sturdy comfort of wood beneath my feet; the sweetness of berries in summer. Small children who would press their faces against my exhibit, feed me bits of nut as they softly stroked my feathers.

And it is not lonely here. My old companions are here, and many more besides: green and flightless and featherless too, sleek striped predators who in the absence of hunger have become friends instead. They say many more will be joining us, in the coming days. Perhaps your kind will too.

Or perhaps not. It is no hardship to wait. We have infinite time here where the air is clean and the water sweet. Here, our bodies are strong again, our eyes clear and our wings swift—and on cloudless days, we darken the skies.


Cynthia Zhang is a part-time writer, occasional academic, and full-time dog lover currently based in Los Angeles. Her novel, After the Dragons, was published with Stelliform Press in 2021, and was shortlisted for the 2022 Ursula K. LeGuin Award in Fiction as well as the 2022 Utopia Awards in the category of Utopian Novella. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Solarpunk Magazine, Xenocultivars: Stories of Queer Growth, Kaleidotrope, On Spec, Phantom Drift, and other venues. She is on the web, on Twitter, and czwrites on Bluesky.


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