They Seek an Inky Elixir

Poems cling to the trees in the dark, glowing like white bandages. They have traveled unimaginable distances, arriving in flocks from all directions. Windblown, tattered, they are exhausted from flying. They are half-dead from endlessly circling human heads, searching for an entrance to those moist and dreaming brains. All but a few have failed to do so.

The sound of the poems settling is a many-voiced hiss. Here, in the thickest part of the woods, they cover every trunk and branch. Their thirst is terrible. Sticky and breathless, they seek an inky elixir drawn by roots from the underworld. They crave that earthy flavor, the taste of clay and rust. Their unfurled tongues bore into the sapwood.

In an earlier life, they gathered in the crowns of trees and chewed. Now, in their fullness, graced with wings, they desire only that which flows. The words they seek have nothing to do with sunlight and chartreuse leaves. They wriggle deeper between the shingles of bark. All night long they siphon what they need from the trees. They greedily swallow cold shadows.

In exchange, they leave the trees egg masses, coiled like strings of sepia pearls, studded with bristles plucked from their abdomens. These miniature spikes warn away predators: the beaked dullards, the mindless with claws. The armored eggs sleep, waiting for wings.

The trees make their own poetry, pulling the dying creatures closer, covering the tiny deep wounds in their flesh with the many splayed wings. The patterns that adhere to their skin are intricate, furred, beautiful. Like hieroglyphs from a subterranean world.

Only a few humans ever wander this far, sleepwalking, led by unbearable hunger through miles of darkness to this stand of trees. Their dreams are starving. A great passion resides in their quivering fingertips. They lift their arms to touch the velvety runes of wings, gathering phosphorescent dust in their pores, reading the trees like Braille.

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