Lauren Moseley Elephant Bird

All living things give birth to memory.
An egg cracks. A skull keeps the softness intact.
The chick pecks at her shell and frees herself,
dripping. She looks at her mother
and knows half of all she ever will.

*

Hominid brains and giant bird eggs
are measured by the liter.
An ostrich egg is 1.3, a human brain 1.4.
When homo sapiens first set foot on Madagascar,
they met a ten-foot-high behemoth
that laid nine-liter eggs, and they hunted it
to extinction.

Before that, for millions of years,
the elephant bird rocked the earth
back and forth as she walked.
Tank for a body, thick rippling neck.
Upright, flightless, and vegetarian
like an ostrich, but eight hundred pounds
more fearsome. If confronted in the forest,
a human head would reach the feathered breast,
as the neck snaked high above
to the snapping beak.

*

A myth: that we use a fraction of our brains.
When hooked up to instruments, each lobe
lights up at some point in the day.

*

Some call it instinct to kill,
to hobble a beast with blows to the legs.
Once felled—a spear to the head.
Scrambled and cooked over the fire,
one egg will feed the entire tribe.
Halved shells of the eggs themselves
make immaculate bowls.

*

Wiped from the face of Earth,
the bird lived on in our minds.
Great explorers crossed southern oceans
and sailors sang of its strength and speed.
Scheherazade gave it wings.
Sinbad saw one feed its young an elephant.
But the real thing was forever gone—
the largest bird that ever lived.

*

Memory is endemic to many regions
of the brain: the hippocampus (episodes),
amygdala (emotions), neocortex (knowledge),
and cerebellum (motor skills).
Ancestral memory in every cell.

*

Earlier this millennium, an egg
was auctioned for $100,000.
Inside, perfectly preserved,
the elephant chick’s skeleton curled.
When the shell was filled with light,
each bone stood out in dark relief.

Something fired in the buyer’s brain.
His hand lifted, as if of its own mind.
He told a reporter, I’ll always remember
holding the egg the first time.
It felt so familiar.


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