Mary Mackey

When Jaguars Licked Salt from My Hands

burning jungles
once spread out beneath me
carpets of flame that moved and twisted
following the silver snake of the river
like an evil prophecy 

I remember a hot green day
when jaguars licked salt
from my hands
and the shamans turned my body
into a bag of birds

how they pried open my mouth
and stuffed me with parrots
macaws   crested eagles   Fire-eyes 
Monjitas   Tinamous   and Cotingas
filled my lungs with feathers
stripped off my skin and replaced it
with a layer of greasy down the color of
rotten mangoes

I remember how my hands became claws
my nails talons
how when I tried to speak
a thousand beaks
came out of my mouth
and my tongue broke off
at the tip

when they were finished
they wrapped me in a blanket of thorns
tied ropes around their ankles
and climbed to the crest 
of a great tree

fly            they commanded
throwing me naked and nestless
into air so hot and thick I thought at first
I could swim in it

I flew forever before I hit the ground
flew like a hawk looking for prey
like a vulture looking
for death

now back in these lands
where the leaves turn blood red
and pepper fruits fall to the ground
and everything has a golden
diminishment   as if light itself
is finally being observed to die
I can still feel those birds
trying to beat themselves
out of my skull

and I   almost
take flight again
over that vast jungle
of nightmares and