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Study Skins

Limp wings, the neck

droops over my hand. Clean slit

from the cloaca, I peel back

skin from the breast-- gently

not to stretch it. Grit

of cornmeal, borax. How neatly

it all fits together. Flies.

Outside, a blackbird squawks.

Rough bumps

of the feather tracts under skin;

each feather a bump. The innards

text-book perfect: gleaming

liver lobes; the heart

clean as a thumb; trachea--

windpipe-- fluted hollow

holding the breath. Inside

out, the wing's white bone

juts up; the thigh.

My hair falls into my face-- so easy

to dig out the skull,

pry out the eyes. Outside,

the air all brightness, warm bayberry:

light, whole and beating. I think

what's to keep

me from dissipating, evaporating,

like a breath

or the blackbird's call?

I make a body from a stick

wrapped in cotton, imbed

it in the skull. My hands

sticky and caught

with pieces of tissue and down;

some in my hair, on my brow.

When I'm done, the guts

a small pile on the newspaper.

The birds, wings folded,

stare straight up to the ceiling.

Eyes filled with cotton,

wide and blank as if

they've seen some mystery

I don't see, whole-- fluted--

which means furrowed, clear.

--Talvikki Ansel

From My Shining Archipelago, winner of the 1997 Yale Younger Poet's Award (Yale Univesity Press, $12)

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