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.
Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) was recently appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia (2020-2022). She is Co-Winner of the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition in Poetry for Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, September 2020). She is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015; she also teaches classes at The Muse Writers’ Center in Norfolk. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.