Poetry Archive

Self-Portrait Wearing My Grandmother’s Vulture Wings

Wings wait folded neatly in dressers, 

hang off nails on walls,      like carrion. 

On wash day, I stretch their full wingspan, 

their weight brings in the saguaros to each side.  

On market day, vulture wings clasp onto 

my shoulders, nest over soft, dark hair. 

One end, prickly like pears, 

reaches across my neck, grips onto my nape, 

as fingers run over okra, scallions, asparagus stalks 

wound tight. Before labor, a midwife 

wraps vulture wings around my lower waist  
coerces      my child out of its dark vessel, 

cocoons her filmy skin. 

Days later, my bundled child hangs, 

a growth on my back, 

as I feed honey-mesquite limbs to a fire. 

As she grows, vulture wings will hang off her frame 

—intricate silvery-dark plumage, 

tiered chestnut patterns—

Beautiful, my wings  

she will say to daughters years later.

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Filed under: Poetry Archive


Nayelly is an educator, activist, and poet. She is a Rio Grande borderlands native. Her poetry has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Puerto del Sol, Notre Dame Review, and others. She is a co-founder of Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, an organization that advocates for immigrant rights and received the 2019 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.