obligate cainism

two baby birds,
not yet sleek,
not yet black,
perched high over
the Bay of Bengal
watch a pink morning sky
for the return of their
beautiful mother,
forewarned by
the shadow cast
by her sloping, wide wings

a mothers’ arms stretch
wider than their world,
she delivers to them
clutches of eggs and
entire nests, bowls of
screeching hatchlings,
baby birds, lesser species
marked for death by
the Black Eagle’s
predatory privilege

two awkward, gray birds
once an ugly pair of eggs,
white shells splotched
carelessly brown, each
separately contained
within her own curve
of wall, one just a little
smaller, both so fragile,
first one discovers life,
next both discover
each other in the
rubble of their birth

the mother flies
low and slow over
thick canopy, hidden
by everyday details,
leaves, twiggy branches,
drapes of moss muffling
the alarmed cries of
Shekru squirrels
(their long tails like
brightly ribboned
cocktail toothpicks
stuck seductively
into rows of
tiny sandwiches)

talons dutifully full
of squirrel or tiny
monkey fur, she
dreams of free flight,
the thrill, the delight of
letting go, nose down,
wings shut tight,
diving dangerously deep
to impress her
narrow-eyed lover

she dreams how he
follows, falls farther,
together they spin,
arc wide, follow
one another up through
thermals layered with
cool, wet winds,
exhilarated, bound
for life

for now they fly apart,
they hunt apart, they must
feed the fledglings
until one fledgling
can feed itself

she slows and hovers
over two noisy, open beaks,
drops her writhing quarry,
swerves, lands, watches,
then her gaze wanders
to the dreamy horizon
awaiting his brief,
eventual return

the small birds eat,
ravenously, reach
the end of the meat,
they fight beak to beak
until one loses an eye,
shrieks, cowers, bleeds
the mother looks, sees,
then she looks away,
following a dark,
distant speck, hoping

sated, the sisters sleep,
days pass, they grow
and they fight, they feed
and they fight, then one,
younger by minutes,
smaller by grams and
feathers, grows weak,
sickly, slow to heal,
forever the fledgling
when her soul is released,
a tiny spark in an
endless black sky,
still fighting for
some small share
of the last kill

the elder grows regal
and mean, strong,
entitled, first born,
muscle and sinew
fed by more than
her fair share of
every bloody,
battered thing
that ever gave up
in the nest
beside her

soon, she will leave
and her parents
will return from a
holiday of daring,
perilous romance,
then reluctantly
they will rebuild
on the same site, in
the same nest where
all their fledglings
have lived or died

mighty wings closed,
a mother will lay
one egg, maybe two,
but never another


“Obligate siblicide, known as ‘cainism’ in large raptors, is a taxonomically widespread avian phenomenon that remains inexplicable as a simple consequence of food stress: two young can be raised to independence in experimentally manipulated nests, and food supplements do not decrease sibling aggression . . . Most of the younger birds survive only a few days. The parents do not hamper these attacks, it has been repeatedly observed that the older young bird continued his attacks even when a parent bird would feed him.”
— British Ornithologist ROBERT SIMMONS


This is my entry for the dVerse OpenLink as it makes its glorious return from the winter holiday. It’s my first in a long while, months, during which I’ve written little. I began this yesterday after reading about maternal animal behavior in various species. A handful of you who know me or my work may recognize a theme I’m trying to move beyond, but my wretched muse has more to say.

Please take a moment to read some of the other entries, an eclectic collection in a wide range of styles from my favorite — if only — poetry club. Really. There is always some great work to be found.

About Wyeth Bailey

Raging my mid-life crisis. Reclaiming my riot girl youth. Resenting my overdeveloped intellect. Wyeth Bailey is a pseudonym. You may follow me on twitter @DangerousSweets View all posts by Wyeth Bailey

6 responses to “obligate cainism

  • brian miller

    fascinating…first i was watching the discovery channel in your words…great visuals…and you play out their story nicely…yikes on killing the sibling…raptors are intense…we used to have a farm near us that had a raptor sanctuary

  • Anthony Desmond (@iamEPanthony)

    wow… I’m truly amazed by the amount of detail in here… Raptors take no shit… This is a very long write, it really takes skill to keep a poem of this length fresh all the way thru… and you had me until the very end. great write. also, I really appreciate your cmnt on my poem; thx for stopping by.

  • claudia

    oh heck… love how you paint the scene with your words here…such great visual quality…and the title sums it up perfectly…ugh…it’s a tough fight out there

  • Björn Rudberg (brudberg)

    This is amazing.. Real life drama, tough or impossible to be the younger one.. Nature can be cruel… Love the mother’s dream of freedom as well..

  • Grace

    I love love this, such power and energy of those birds and their young ~ I have read about the babies dying and being eaten by the surviving one, its the law of the jungle ~ Good to read your story ~

  • Victoria

    Such a textured, layered piece. I felt like I was enjoying the beauty of nature one moment and then hurled into darkness…then I saw the title which describes it to a tee. This seems to me to have a strong metaphoric play to it. Stunning.

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