I feel like this blog post should come with a warning…It’s not exactly beautiful, more stomach-turning actually, though I hold out faith that there’s beauty even here. Consider yourself warned.
I drink my coffee on the back porch
and notice with some pleasure
that a hadada ibis is walking towards me.
I have recently announced to my husband
that I no longer consider the ibises a nuisance–
their large dinosaur bodies, their loud grating call–
but a beautiful fascination.
How lucky we are, I assure him,
to have such exotic birds living
in such comfortable proximity.
So I am careful to sit still as this ibis approaches,
eager to observe its shimmering feathers,
its unlikely beak, all the details
I’ve missed at my usual distance.
I notice that its eye–as it stares at me
from the stone slabs less than a meter from my seat,
pokes its curved red and black beak into the bird bath–
is exactly the same as the earring I am wearing,
shiny black, ringed in sliver,
perfect concentric circles.
Its prehistoric feet pad gingerly down the stone,
when it finds a slug on a plant,
grasps it with its sharp beak,
and shakes it,
bits of grey slug flesh
spraying in all directions.
Somehow it manages to get some of the
creature down that long beak,
strings of slime dragging from beak to branch.
I am horrified, fascinated, admiring and disgusted.
It snatches up a piece that has fallen
and I cringe as pieces of wet grey slug body
land on the cushion beside me.
I watch as it coaxes the fat body
from the tip of that long beak
all the way down to its throat, gullet.
It reaches for another.
It has found a feast in my potted plant,
all those little creatures who didn’t know this morning
that they’d be torn from their leafy hollow.
Slug after slug, it rips them apart,
sends pieces flying.
One of the slugs is so long that
it gets wrapped around the ibis’s beak,
stuck to itself with its own slime.
I don’t know if this is a poem that I am watching unfold
or a disturbing documentary,
science and nature and life and death.
There is no glory in the way these slugs are dying,
no propriety in this meal.
What began as an ode to sliver-ringed eyes
has become a gluttonous, deathly display of biology.
The spot of red on its beak has grown brighter, richer.
but the beak is no longer smooth and graceful,
crusted now with its breakfast.
There is so much slime,
so many long strings of gastropod bodies
flailing around that my toes curl,
my stomach turns.
I cover my coffee mug with my hand to protect it
from the fleshy debris flying in its direction.
I feel all my biases rise to my mouth,
bias for small and fluttery,
against large and prehistoric.
This is not the bird feeding that I’m used to,
the delicate snap of sunflower seeds in small beaks
that I admire every morning.
I admit that my recent affection for the ibis
has not survived the move
from theoretical to concrete,
from distance to intimacy.
My love has not lasted