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In the valleys fashioned by volcanic fire,
within the still, smoldering lakes
their fluted bodies dance and bow
like flames touched by breath.
The centuries have prepared them
for heat so intense
that temperature
becomes incidental;
for waters so caustic
they force the feathers to bleed
around the birds' globe-like bodies —

bodies that attenuate into legs and necks
like threads of fire
and then, even further,
into hundreds of rows of birds, waiting
in line to feed as they fan themselves
with their own sunsets.

Somewhere between volcanic soda
and fresh water lakes, they give birth
to their young onto mud flats
to keep the eggs and chicks cooler
than the sweltering earth
one foot below.
Perhaps that's what evolution will do
until it can imagine something worse
than beautiful birds
that evolve
beyond flight,
beyond the ashes of their own bodies.

      — Darlene Pagan