ESTUARY/ ARS POETICA

The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand, and Antarctic Birds calls the pelican “an eclectic and opportunistic scavenger.” It hunts for food alone in deep water, takes what it can from trash cans and landfills, eats anything from “insects and small crustaceans to ducks and small dogs.”

If hungry enough, the pelican will take fish from another bird’s mouth. In captivity, it will eat the whole bodies, bones and all, of other birds of prey. When I think about the hollow of this bird’s insatiate beak, how its very shape speaks the words I covet, I can’t help but to think about how the poem arrives as a stranger, how I catch and cradle it in my mouth as if to preserve it for all of us and for myself alone, this analeptic and unremarkable sustenance. 

I can’t help but to think about how every space, every life I’ve lived in is a kind of estuary, a blending of salt and cool fresh water. The salt of illness, of absence, of forgetting. Of cars pulling out of the driveway, walls coated in dish fragments and pancake syrup, voices raised in the hallway that once belonged to my parents and now somehow are my own.

The gentle push of fresh water: my bare feet on hot cobblestones as I walk alone in Granada at night, wiping my face as I become more and more lost on those purple winding streets near the old part of the city. 

Fresh water when a man from Sinaloa, also a traveler, finds me in the dark and doesn’t touch me once. Doesn’t touch me at all except to wipe the tears from my eyes and describe the way home in an accent I remember. Quick and warm, split from the Andalusian, perfect, hesitant, careful and desalinated–

The poem is that man in the dark of the street. His thumbs resting on each of my tear ducts, his face lit up by the last remaining orange of those wrought-iron street lamps from the final years of Franco, their bulbs still humming all wide and faintly on the pathless outer edge of the Albaicín.


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