Shell Free

bird egg and feathersTen thousand pecks they say
to break the shell
and wiggle free,
wide-eyes blinking.
Nothing to be done to hurry things.
It needs 10,000 pecks to build the beak.
What must it think?
At 10,000, beats
one peck at a time, blind,
until the darkness cracks
and a different air wraps its flapping
cold around it. Light dazes in
a rush of smells and greens.

Are we too breaking free bit by bit?
Certainly there is much
that closes us in
our own invisible porcelain:
the hourglass,
and sleepless nights,
and lives with sand walls sliding,
and everywhere the tight jacket
of desire keeps us wrapped
around ourselves.

Still I wonder if the metaphor itself
is not half-cracked.
The question never asked:
Are we the tiny embryo
pressing to be born?
Or is there something far unknown
fighting for its breath in us—against us—
cramped, curled and nerve pinched,
its oxygen receding?
Are we the chick or shell?
The cage or caged?

Or does some mystery make one of two?
That with 10,000 pecks
this dark sufferer
splinters all our little hardnesses;
And then this folded over doubled thing,
crammed and squeezed,
breaks free
and when it does,
God Himself wriggles out, ever so fragile,
hesitant, still wet, but bodied!
And the mystery!
It doesn’t leave us behind,
like some broken thing,
an empty shell,
but brings us on its frangible wings
to a new home,
that is precisely wild,
and we,
clumsy but unfettered,

Copyright © 2000 Susan Dane • All rights reserved.
Selection from GOOD-BYE TO WHITE KNIGHTS and other moving vehicles.