Ortolans

Speaking of blindness, the man told his one-eyed fiancée,
have you heard about the ortolans? Fig-peckers of yellowhammer
descent. Thumb-sized or tongue-sized. Kings used to catch them
at summer’s end, knife-blind them so that in their darkness
they’d feast on millet all day, all night, a break from beetles and seeds,
until they grew from one ounce to four. Drowned
in Armagnac, plucked, placed in a saucepan, roasted,
you eat them whole, so the head dangles between your lips,
crunch bones like hazelnuts, underneath the linen napkin
you must place over your head to create a scent tent
or, so God won’t see your shame. (Proust paired
them with sips of Yquem, a sauterne born of noble
rot — grapes like ashes, their wet dried
in the nick of time, so honeysuckle turns to bitter
finish.) Mediterranean salt emerges as flight bursts
in your mouth. Imagine yourself a memory, a body full
of meal, as Mitterrand must have, eating ortolans
eight days before dying, his last illegal act. Fifteen minutes
of savoring a supple, burning ball of fat until you exhaust
its roast juices. When you finally swallow, you will regret
the end of a sensual experience. At least once in your life,
you must pay the price for this princely folly.

More Poems by Rachel Galvin