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To a Farmer Who Hung Five Hawks on His Barbed Wire

They saw you behind your muzzle much more clearly
Than you saw them as you fired at the sky.
You meant almost nothing.  Their eyes were turning
To more important creatures hiding
In the grass or pecking and strutting in the open.
The hawks didn’t share your nearsighted anger
But soared for the sake of their more ancient hunger
And died for it, to become the emblem
Of your estate, your bloody coat-of-arms.

If fox and raccoon keep out, your chickens may spend
Fat lives at peace before they lose
Their appetites, later on, to satisfy yours.
You’ve had strange appetites now and then,
Haven’t you.  Funny quickenings of the heart.
Impulses not quite mentionable
To the wife or yourself.  Even some odd dreams.
Remember that scary one about flying?
You woke and thanked the dawn you were heavy again.

Tonight, I aim this dream straight at your skull
While you nestle it against soft feathers:
You hover over the earth, its judge and master,
Alert, alive, alone in the wind
With your terrible mercy. Your breastbone shatters
Suddenly, and you fall, flapping,
Your claws clutching at nothing crookedly
End over end, and thump to the ground.
You lie there, waiting, dying little by little.

You rise and go on dying a little longer,
No longer your heavy self in the morning
But light, still lighter long into the evening
And long into the night and falling
Again little by little across the weather,
Ruffled by sunlight, frozen and thawed
And rained away, falling against the grass
Little by little, lightly and softly,
More quietly than the breath of a deer mouse.


By David Wagoner, another well-loved American poet; also novelist, professor, and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for over 20 years. He has been award much recognition for his work, including the Pushcart Prize, a literary prize that honours the best poetry, short fiction, essays, and “literary whatnot” published by small presses, in books or magazines, over the previous year.

I found this poem in a glorious recent anthology of less-well-known poetry about our avian neighbours and friends:  Bright Wings:  An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, 2009.  It’s edited, with introduction, by Billy Collins; each bird featured in a poem (or two) is portrayed in a full-page colour plate painted by David Allen Sibley, noted illustrator and student of nature in North America.