To cook yan wo: soak then steam eight nests for three - four
hours, remove foreign matter, add clarified chicken stock.
Dark sky-smudges announce the flock, hundreds
wheeling, feeding on the wing. They enter as a flurry
of black darts shot from a blowgun, quicker than the eye grasps.
Tiny tapered wings -
each wingbeat displaces
multiple small scoopfuls of air.
Purpose built, multi-storey concrete shells
mimic caves - a matrix of wooden beams, carefully placed
nooks for nesting. Piped bird song, ventilation - cacophonous.
Swiftlets make very bad neighbours.
They throw clicks out like white canes; judging distance,
contour, navigating in split-second aerial gymnastics.
Clinging to the wall with his toes,
beak as bobbin, the male weaves strands of saliva
into delicate semi-transparent bone-china cups.
His nest has no leaves, feathers, straw or twigs,
woven almost entirely from spit.
Two even three nests are harvested each season -
his hotel tariff - but the birds come again and again,
entering and leaving as they please, populations explode.
The best hotels are never empty.
Anne M. Carson is a Melbourne writer of prose and poetry who has been published in the USA and widely in Australia. In 2011 she won the Martha Richardson Poetry Prize and was awarded equal first in the Stones Winery Poetry Competition.