I saw a swan in the remaindered midwest. Salt crystals dug into my gold feet. They rasped the metal away, got at the flesh beneath. The ground was a convenience—my wounds were quickly salted. The swan nested among pale crystals. It croaked and called me over. The bird didn’t immediately return my affection. I spoke sweetly to it. I lay with the swan awhile.
To establish trust, I let it lick my wounded feet. The swan’s lithe tongue probed the cuts. Gold flakes and globbed blood soon flecked its beak. I demanded a gesture of trust, so it lifted a wing. I viewed its eggs. They were ovoids of salt. “I don’t think those are yours,” I said to the mother swan. She croaked loud, a rebuttal. When she attacked, her beak dented my cheeks. I backed to a safe distance. She angrily preened.
I slept and dreamt of pain. When I woke, the swan’s beak was in my mouth. To the left of my head rested a stack of extracted, blood-swaddled teeth. The swan had another incisor nearly out. She gave a good yank and the root snapped.
In a rage, I wrung the swan’s neck. The salt eggs were then unsheltered. The desert baked them and chlorine wafted off their surface. I saw bent shadows move inside. The salt leached onto my gold, cast it green. I stayed several days longer.
Eight baby swans chipped themselves free, every last one black. In their beaks grew full sets of human teeth. At first their heads dragged on the ground—their necks were too weak to support them. I was jealous. I had less than half my teeth left. The extracted ones clattered in my shirt-pocket.
I told the baby swans about the old world. I spoke of causality as psalms. Their squawks
were followed by clacking enamel. “Quiet,” I said. “Father’s talking.”
They licked and chewed the salt. It agreed with them. Within a week they were strong enough to escape. I watched their black forms fly into the uninterrupted blue. Following a period of mourning, I continued on my way.
© William VanDenBerg