from Vestigialby Aja Couchois Duncan
It begins with her arched back, her split abdomen, unleashing
waves of pheromones.
He flies toward her cascading scent, tracking her location from
miles away by the increasing number of molecules that coat
the hair-like olfactory receptors on his antenna.
It begins with lust but mistakes itself for love.
She sleeps with his armpit in her mouth, licks the filamentous
muskiness. When he leaves, she wraps her face in the cloth of
his shirt, sucking his newly male scent like juice.
Their genetic lines are split by the western cordillera, an
immense mountain range dividing the continent as if bone
splitting the skin. On one side are rivers and valleys and on the
other a vast open plain.
At its northern point, the cordillera is cold and dark. Between
ice caps and glaciers, the earth hibernates. But even here the
temperatures are rising. As the cordillera warms, it wakes and
blossoms with an increasing number of fungi species.
The rise in temperature leads to an explosion of insects. Highly
mobile, they mate quickly, accelerate their life cycle to match
the warming planet.
As the earth warms, her mating cycle speeds up. She goes from
proestrus to estrus in a single afternoon. He can sense her
swelling labia, the oocyte moved along by cilia down her
Lets make a baby, he says, laying her down on the linoleum
floor. She opens her mouth, her legs, every orifice rising up to
meet him. But he has no seminal vesicles, no prostate or vas
deferens. When he comes, there is only the sound of it, an echo
of gametes fusing.
Before everything came into being there was a great deal of
waiting for. Waiting for the earth to form, waiting for life to
She waits on her wadikwan, its fragile perch, for him to find
her. It takes millennia. When he arrives, he is coated in her
musky scent, his body dusted with the damp molecules.
Listen, he says. In the silence she hears the universe.
In a land that is not this land, in a time that is not this time,
there is a stand of trees in which there lives a bird or rather
two birds but they are fighting and the intensity with which
they battle each other makes it appear as if they are one.
In a land that is not this land, in a story that is not this story,
there is a stand of trees in which lives two birds. The birds fall
in love but the feeling is so strange, so unnerving, that they
lose their ability to fly. They wait there in the tree for the
feeling to pass, for their capacity for flight to return. When it
doesn’t they began to worry, and, in their anxiety, peck at each
other. Just to clean each others feathers, or so they say, but the
truth is that it is easier to peck than wait, or worse to say
goodbye to the thing for which their bodies have evolved, the
hollow bones, the open space between them, amidst the
crisscrossing trusses, to make them light, to keep them aloft,
their entire skeletal system fussed into a single ossification.
Surely it is not love but agawaatese for which they were
intended. If it had been love, they would have lips and the
pillowed flesh of palms with which to caress each other. They
wouldn’t be so expansively winged. They ponder this in the
time between the sun rising and setting. So much time waiting
on a branch for flight to return, for love, or the passing of it, to
ContributorAja Couchois Duncan
Aja Couchois Duncan is a Bay Area writer, coach and capacity builder, and forest dweller of Ojibwe, French and Scottish descent. Her most recent book, Restless Continent (Litmus Press) was selected by Entropy Magazine as one of the best poetry collections of 2016 and the California Book Award for Poetry in 2017. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a variety of other degrees and credentials to certify her as human. Great Spirit knew it all along.