Of All the Birds I Love the Least

The pelican is thought 
unusual for the way it clasps
food with its feet and dips it
in water before eating;

for the sound it makes as it drinks,
which is like a donkey braying.
Most medieval bestiaries
tell of the way it cares

for its young, who as they grow
louder and stronger, turn against it.
But even the most saintly reach
a limit— one too many bouts

of aggressive pecking, and
the parent snaps. The story doesn't
say exactly how the lethal wounds
are inflicted on the young. But

on the gilded page, the artist shows
the mother frantically gouging out
her breast with her own beak; drops
of her blood fall on the fallen,

and they rise again, miraculous,
rejuvenated. Since the theme of virtue
in self-sacrifice is re-established,
the story doesn't see fit to continue

past the moment of instruction. But
what happened then? Were they finally
satisfied? Did the new lease on life
extend to all? No caladrius painted

among the vines, steady gaze ready
to take on the malady. No mention of who
dressed the mother-wounds and helped
her heal. No calculus of what it cost.

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