Five specks in V-formation move in smooth
approach. The sun transmits a flushed alarm,
thin flames of tangerine among the crests.
The small fleet coasts our way and scouts above
us where we wade in fish-ripe waves, our heads
thrown back, our mouths agape. We point at beaks
of fossil-gray that rest on folded necks.
We wonder at the feathered frames as stout
as tanks but somehow weightless on the wind.
We laud the continental wingspans. Not
an engine’s drone but stoic silence marks
the pelicans’ advance. One breaks away
and glides in freefall, locked in on its mark.
The hunter moves with memory beyond
its lifespan. But what of the ancient lore
that when its food was scarce the pelican
would use its beak to open up its breast
and feed its chicks with its own blood? Some said
the bird could bring its young from death
to life with this self-sacrificial gift.
This bird does not know what we know: that Life
is lord of death, as Whittier says, what’s lost
redeemed already by one gift of Self.
Just yards from where we stand, the stoic dives
and opens up the sea with tactical
indifference, extracting with its beak
a silver splinter from the ocean’s palm
then settling on the surf. The neck extends.
The beak jerks up toward the sky, a move
that looks like laughter but means death for one
sleek speckled trout. Scales tip and glint: the fish
contorts in one innate attempt to flee
until the pelican achieves its win
then opens windworn wings and lifts its bulk,
unhaunted by its sacred heritage.