Today I Am Full of Birds

If you run for too long, you forget everything.
Even your limbs become invention. A fallacy of skin
you tell yourself you once had when you knew
how to be more, so birds are the stories you now tell
your flesh. You remind her of the Swift 
who flies for years, as if land is an impossible trick. You tell
her about the Sea Eagle from China lost
in America for years. Flying and flying and never
finding home. You remember her the ʻAlauahio, the ʻŌʻō,
the Olomaʻo, the Kākāwahie, the ʻĀkepa, the Nukupuʻu
the ʻŌʻū, the Mamo, the ʻUla-ʻai-hawane, the Poʻo-uli, 
the Kāmaʻo, the ʻAmaui, the birds, the birds,
the birds. You remember her all the birds 
who had to be more
to be.

This morning I am unsure how
a bird exists when she has been seen only
under glass for more than fifty years. Her feathers
a feeble reminder of what she could be. Diminished 
to a hush of keratin and collagen. This bird
once shook the forest with her color.

This morning I am not sure how
I am still here. Daybreak—               
just another process of shedding
of peeling back to meat
with no     new      skin to shelter.

Every breath, a surprise.
The heart beats still.
But how—how do we quiet 
these too loud bones
when our seams are worn 
by so much running?

When you finally stop
you still feel your insides running.
Those involuntary tissues scrambling
to burst through your surfaces. What
would you do to let them free? When all of you
is full of run, you imagine yourself feathers. 
There is a bird inside you pushing 
at all your cracks. The punctures of vanes 
are just more places for you to breathe. 
This bird inside you would know 
how to draw breath. This bird inside you 
would know the song struggling 
in your throat. What will you do 
to let this bird free? What will you do 
to find all the songs
you should sing?

Today we remember the Kākāwahie.
we remember the ʻAlauahio, the ʻŌʻō,
the Olomaʻo, the ʻĀkepa, the Nukupuʻu
the ʻŌʻū, the Mamo, the ʻUla-ʻai-hawane,
the Poʻo-uli, the Kāmaʻo, the ʻAmaui.

Today we remember our body
before we severed our own wings
just so we could hide
from the man
in the story
who would pin
all our wings 
to the ground.


Copyright © 2024 by Lyz Soto. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“This poem is part of the Delisted project with the attorney, evolutionary biologist, and writer Jennifer Calkins, asking a collection of artists to spend a year communing with a being scheduled to be ‘delisted’ from the endangered species list. I was bestowed the Kākāwahie, a honeycreeper endemic to the island of Molokaʻi, who was last seen in 1963 and is now considered extinct. This bird came to me in dreams and led me back to the bodies of women, particularly brown women, and all the ways we have had to fight to be heard—to be seen, to be safe, to be loved.”
—Lyz Soto