Illustration: birdbath photo digitally manipulated to suggest birds-eye view of flamingos at drying lake in desert

Falling Behind

newly adorned in birth’s timid grey
this young flamboyance of lesser flamingos
was bred beneath the sub-Saharan star.
once, a swamp brimming with pools of life,
rain, and other exhalations their hatched home is
now a vast salt flat, a grave abandoned by
god’s quiet tears.

these lessers are strong, social, but hatchlings
gifted a ghost-grey cocktail of muck, crystal,
and dormant algae have learned, already, the
immortal tune whispered to egg and embryo.

ushered by ancient urge to retrieve the distant
ocean from its own egotistic, obscurity the race
begins and hundreds of young flamingos surge
forth on scorching land, with newfound life,
on newfound legs against primordial sand.

in this toilsome trek to meet their world
one hatchling, unaware of her feathers,
webbed feet, crooked bill, has been
kissed by nature’s cruel apathy. hugged
by a salt that congeals upon innocence,
upon youth, to swallow it whole in
the oldest way.

the others hasten ahead for there is no
means of stopping when the sun is its own
victor and the game is played alone.
she, the smallest lesser is left behind to fail,
to flail forgotten like a melody out of
sync with its own pounding metronome.

at every step the beat grows louder, salt
solidifies, anchoring this body she is learning to
use like a wasp against the widow’s web
and sight of a life she might have lived
grows silent in the distance, withers at the
equinox to drown by desert sky.

Monica Mills is a Jamaican-American writer and poet. She is from Maplewood, New Jersey and has a bachelor’s degree in political science and English from Rutgers University. Monica’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in journals such as West Trade Review, FEED, Amethyst Review, New Verse News, and Eunoia Review among others. She enjoys rainy days and ginger tea.

Illustration by C.B. Auder.

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