Baudelaire taught me how to whittle the bones into Maori tattoo blades; I learned which caterpillar to infect and when to kill it to get the right pigment and that the cheeks should be carved in grooves so that men would see me and know courage, know that I killed the albatross which sculpted my face. So,
not knowing I was infected, I hunted him by sea, arms pounding into oars. Each swing pushed my flesh into the handles, blood pooling in the grains marrow sucked into blade until my arms became flaccid, hollow—fell to the keel like crushed shafts of feathers. I prayed that my shoulders would sprout wings but I felt the murdered bird around my neck, and when I closed my eyes I saw him, and wept; clumsy and ashamed on wet deck, white wings beside him like oars.
Composed of Alexandrines and dedicated to Charles Baudelaire, this poem appears in Issue 12 of the New Haven Review (June 2013). To read the poem in its original context, download the PDF of the issue.