Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Future

The body is lined with it, like a nest,
like the down the eider plucks from her breast

until her nest is a gray mist weighed down
by five sea-green eggs. At the end of each season,

only one duckling will survive to fly
away. This is an average. On any given day,

all of the eggs may hatch, all of the hatchlings
may freeze. The gulls may cruise in rings

above the nesting colonies, the polar bear
may not surge ashore. The female eider

can lay eggs for eighteen years, more or less.
Without wanting to, I do the math. She will lose

seventy-two chicks before she dies, those numbers
traded against her own long years by nature’s

calm calculus. There is only so much life
to go around. It isn’t like a flame, whose belief

in itself is enough to burn a forest down.
Instead, we have been given one

bolt of cloth to be shared. The choice is
in how you shear it. I say “choice”

but of course it’s not. It’s a vast, organic machine
running like static behind everything; the gene

doesn’t want anything, doesn’t want, doesn’t
exist except by cosmic mistake. Accident

means to move toward a fall. And so they fall
and fall through time, carelessly, like a carnival

ride whose switch is stuck in the “on” position.
I would like to die before losing any children.

In fact, there is no reason for me to be alive anymore.
Having borne my code into the future,

even if only by another lifetime, I could not matter
less. Eider ducklings enter the water

motherless, will dive for mussels on their own
just one day after hatching. If they escape starvation,

the gulls, the cold, when will the dying begin?
When do the cells start to multiply or weaken?

The eider’s scientific name is Somateria mollissima:
the softest body. My own is already less terra firma

and more open water, more unmooring, more
losing. I may have already begun to rupture

invisibly, my cells may have already begun
their unwinding. Time picks us up then sets us down

a little further on, pulses through us like a wave.
Sometimes it seems as if the eggs survive

just to keep the nest from blowing away.
I have stayed, even though it makes me prey

to worse things than freezing wind or gulls.
I am mostly glad we are not wild animals.

I am mostly glad about most things, even
the future, even though I know that broken

shells may float on its waters. I need to think
that the eider doesn’t grieve the breaking.  

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