self-portrait at 29
— Rachel Kuanneng Lee
when the openbills make their way across the blue,
they gather and part,
gather and part,
no bird meandering from the body’s whole.
in flocks of hundreds,
each dots and darkens the sky,
each swirling to the persuasion
of some strange and
unseen map. when they stop
for food and rest in the wetland marshes,
the firegold glow of evening sun
their beaks stick into dense,
damp soil, rooting
for freshwater snails.
once found, the snails are wedged
in the breach between
both jaws and cloven.
the young among them do not have
this gap—it is something the birds
must grow into, this yawning hollow,
this gaping want. until dusk dwindles, we stand knee-deep
in silt-blown fen over that night’s dinner,
bills puncturing into waters trembling
until it is clear
there is nothing beautiful about these broken beaks,
except for the eyes, which glimmer in the gloaming.
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