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
                          bathes them.
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.

dig deep
                          hold firm

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.

Read more from Issue No. 24 or share on Twitter.