The poetic life of the egg tooth.

Three eggs discovered at a rest area in Kentucky.

The last few lines from Gail Mazur’s poem, “Evening”, come to mind. The lines in which the elderly woman insists that she wants the blue eggs more than the promise of the bird tucked within them.

If it weren’t for the specialized aptitude of the egg tooth, the baby bird might never emerge from the egg. The baby would remain a possibility rather than a probability.

The egg tooth fascinates me. Lodged in my neural networks, waiting to morph into the perfect metaphor, I hold it back like a pawn piece on a chess board, knowing the perfect exchange will appear to those with the patience to see it.

Chicks with wings that don’t work, those baby birds, ensconced in the protective covering of the portable womb known more commonly as “egg”. Since the beak and the claws of the chick are not fully developed and cannot penetrate the egg shell at the time when the chick is ready to emerge, the egg tooth plays it brief, dazzling role.

Found only in emerging chicks, the egg tooth’s purpose is brief and to the point; it serves only to assist the baby bird in breaking through the hard shell in the process known as “pipping”.

For a chick, the cost of growing within the egg-womb is a decreased ability to absorb enough oxygen through the pores of its eggshell. Compelled by its natural wisdom, the oxygen-thirsty chick uses its egg tooth to peck a hole in the air sac located at the flat end of the egg. This sac provides a few hours worth of air, during which the chick breaks through the eggshell to the outside.

Far from being a singular miracle, the egg tooth works in concert with a special muscle on the back of the chick’s neck. This pipping muscle provides chicks with the strength to force the egg tooth through the inner membrane of the eggshell.

The chick hatches, leaving its shell behind. Soon it learns to open its mouth expectantly. Finally, a few days after hatching, the egg tooth falls off, its purpose exhausted.

C.D. Wright admires the egg tooth in “Obscurity and Selfhood”, a poem published in 1949. I like the poem so much that I can’t bear to parse it, to surgically remove pieces and pretend any life can be left in the dissected corpse. So here it is, in it’s entirety, in honor of the marvelous egg tooth.


by C. D. Wright

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