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The End of All Flight
By Frank Paino

The first bird was a serpent,
green in a tree that dripped
apples red as an opened vein,
though death, at that time, 
was only a rumour the blades
of sawgrass whispered 
when combed 
by the wind’s shrill fingers.

The first bird was a serpent
with wings, whom Eve beheld
during love’s first exhalation
as she raked Adam’s gleaming
breast, the scar
where he’d been stitched back
together a scythe that already cut
distance between them.
The first bird’s speech was
pure sibilance.
Its language was desire.

The second bird was a god—
was a swan
whose truth was brutal,
though stone and canvas refused
to tell how its great wings were
flecked with the mud and slime
it forced the woman into,
its breath foul with dead fish,
rough skin dotted
with mites that scoured the scales
caught in its tattered plumage.

The second bird was a god
with wings plucked out 
of stuttering air as frightened
swans rose from pungent
water, stirred by the sudden
hot wind that broke the
brackish surface.
The second bird spoke
the blunt language of lust,
its voice like a dissonant bugle. 

The third bird was a dove—
was a spirit
who spoke in tongues
of fire that made a young girl
believe it was love 
that broke open the clenched
fist inside her
and love that would smooth
the seam back towards innocence.

The third bird was a dove
with a poison-tipped 
beak it used like a nail, a nib
touched to a radiant double helix
that became a living word 
within her. Though even that
word was a lie, no different
from any that had gone before—
apple, swan, son of man—
the end of all flight is a falling.

Frank Paino's poems have appeared in a variety of literary publications, including: Gettysburg Review, The Journal, Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry Northwest and the 2006 anthology, The Face of Poetry. Recent work appears in Hunger Mountain and Lake Effect. Other poems are upcoming in: Catamaran and Ekphrasis. His first two volumes of poetry were published by Cleveland State University Press:  The Rapture of Matter (1991) and Out of Eden (1997). He has received a Pushcart Prize and The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature. Frank is currently working on his third manuscript.