Flightless Cormorants

Poetry by | November 16, 2020

i. Ecological Naïveté

It was on our fifth day in Galapagos
that my mother, a biologist, and I
first caught sight of a flock of flight-
less cormorants in the north western coast
of Isabela, at a thorn-scrub land-
scape at the side of a slippery slope,
swathed with cat’s-claw bushes and
thin-leafed daisies. In
front of them, those birds: a young
man hefting a massive rock, his sweat-slick
forehead glistening under the sun.
The birds’ wings, at this, did not kiss
the scorching equatorial sky;
they remained still as the tree-covered hills
behind them. Even their eyes merely slid
past him languidly, over at
the primordial landscape,
where other endemic species resided.
The birds’ wings echoed their own eyes.

ii. Evolution of Flightlessness

Terrestrial mammalian predators’
nonexistence in the islands of Galapagos
had undressed flightless cormorants’
vulnerability millions of years ago,
said my mother years before we went
to that place. Those birds,
therefore, had grown downright
accustomed in the stretches of coastline
and in the fluorescent-blue sea,
where they foraged for fish
and other aquatic organisms,
without dread of being devoured.
In the long run, their wings
had morphed into stubby garments
that were only utilized as
an armor to battle the bone-
chilling ocean of the archipelago.

iii. Ode to the Flightless Cormorants

The isolation bubble of Galapagos,
O flightless cormorants, had already burst,
pierced by the thirst of humans
for dreamscape, their presence,
like waves, lapping on the archipelago
every once in a while. You don’t swim
against the current. In truth,
danger to you has been a wind.
This what you deem as wind,
however, has magnitudes.
And when its strength slaps the sea,
tidal waves—say, bird hunters—
can wipe you all out. Start flapping
your wings, flightless cormorants.
Metamorphose them into massive ones.
The cloud-thronged sky is a place
where waves can’t reach you.
Sail through it. I would love to see
you there enacting a metaphor,
beside the other flying species,
rather than in a book in which you are
a mere history—an aftermath
which will occur if those waves
devour your existence whole.


Michael John Otanes, 25, was born and raised in General Santos City, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English at Mindanao State University. He was a fellow for Poetry in the 2018 Davao Writers Workshop.

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