“… a transitional form between birds and reptiles,… the earliest known bird.”
– Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley
By Elizabeth Swann
One day, you’ll have to dig
through layers of my leavings:
thin, wrinkled shirts devoid of arms,
tattered books,
and paper scraps
scratched with pencil markings.

Among the ruins of my days,
scrape out
a wild hope,
a faith
as shocking

as the stories we read together
in the old rocking chair,
your skinny legs
dangling over mine.

You know some scripture, yes,
but remember, too,
the dinosaurs.


The sacred dwells
beyond the walls
of a cathedral,
beyond history, myth,
or science.

Consider Archaeopteryx,
fossilized and buried

until two years after Darwin
unfurled a new world,    
barbed like a single plume,
the hollow shaft revealed,

and in the rock,
over scaly skin, a downy softness,
promise of wind-swept grace.


You must find it
for yourself.

Go to the ground on your knees.
Trace the lines
of that awkward bird,
three curved toes on each wing.

Measure the longing that pulsed
through cold reptilian blood

to become the first feather,

a welling-up in the offspring –
an anomaly combed with tiny teeth.

Photograph that hard revelation
first found in the rubble
of a Solnhofen quarry, 1861.

Note the winged arms outstretched,
the body, broken,
a fleshless remembrance.


A being between two worlds
conjures terror and bliss.

Use a sieve to sort the fragments,
but keep them
wrapped together.

Brush dust away.
If seeing is not enough,
touch the rough places,

the grain
of wrinkled wounds,
skeletal pleats and creases.


Pry the limestone loose.
Take it in your hands
to cradle the earliest wishbone,
feel the heft

of feathers bound in stone,
remnant of the dream
unimaginable: to break free
from this vegetative earth –
to lift yourself.


You know what can happen,
just like before –
a glimmer
stutters through gathering clouds.

Men cower in pews,
afraid to believe
one way
or another.


Sing, dear one.
Blest be the tie that binds
before and after,          alpha and omega,

Ancient Pinion
now solid in your open palms.

Can you doubt that any of us
may yet reach another realm?


One Response to “Archaeopteryx”

  1. Clarence Eden Says:

    Amazing, Beth! Clarence

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