Self-Portrait as Sparrows and Blood

For the price of a tooth, you can buy two from the boy with no legs. One to keep, the other to let.
As in ancient times, the first slit open over a bowl of fresh water, the second dipped into the blood
of its twin. Water beading on the sheath of its beak. As a child, I observed the talons’ delicate
architecture. How bent, the weighted tendons snap shut, clamping the toes in place. Even in sleep,
a bird will not lose its perch. A sparrow found on the front steps sputters like a guttering flame
when fed from an eyedropper. The tiny body is limp in my hand, cold in the ground where I lay it.
So tiny you could crush its skull between two fingers. The crunch of wingbones as the pitted struts
collapse. On the sidewalk, a bloodied wing, opened as if in flight. The rest of the bird, incomplete,
hovering overhead. The curve of bone like a feathered cuff. None of us escapes unscathed. None of us
is free.
It’s true what they say, that airborne, a bird’s bones fill with flight. Set free in an open field,
the bird thinking why not me. What’s bright against its throat, smeared across keeled breastbone.
Each wingbeat a scarlet flash. The pressed-together parts mirrored in the bottom of the bowl.
Halves opening outward like sky.

Mia Ayumi Malhotra lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and her poems have appeared in Greensboro Review, Mid-American Review, Drunken Boat, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman and VONA/Voices Fellow and has been a finalist for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, the Benjamin Saltman Award, and the Kundiman Poetry Prize.