The falcon floated above the treetops
On my birthday,
Hovered in equilibrium
Before it plunged
As if air
Again it rose,
And soared, and dived,
Braking its swift spiral
Inches before impact.
It took no prey,
But flew away,
And I went home,
Hauling my shopping in the cart.
The gloom of the day
Split through the middle
By perilous flight
Became something rare.
Once a Cooper’s Hawk settled
outside the first-floor window
at the back of our Manhattan apartment,
perched on the wrought-iron bars
of an empty air conditioner cage.
In the cold, high realms of the air
it had traveled a great distance
and from afar with piercing vision
had spied our cage and courtyard,
one protected space within another.
It felt safe enough to rest surrounded
by high walls, like being
at the bottom of a well of air.
The hawk was so tired it didn’t care
that we were inches away,
separated only by a pane of glass.
Its head swiveled all around,
facing backwards on its neck,
and with its beak it ruffled
its neck feathers and tucked its head
under its wing and was fast asleep
while fierce-looking talons
gripped the bars of the cage.
It was a Friday evening, and the peace
of Shabbat was falling like a veil,
shadowing the world as the hawk slept.
Not wanting to disturb its rest,
I left the room dark as I set the table
next to the window and lit the candles,
softly singing the blessing,
shielding my eyes in prayer.
My husband and daughter and I
blessed the wine and the bread
and quietly ate our dinner by candlelight.
Twice the hawk woke and stared at us.
Its black pupils rimmed in gold
pierced me with inexpressible wildness,
as fierce and strange as God’s angel.
Like a sheet of mica clouding its gaze,
the hawk’s inner eyelid slid from front to back,
and again its head rotated, and it bent
its beak under its wing and slept and woke
and slept again. I woke in the night
and it was still there, a dark form
immobile against the darkness.
In the morning it was gone.
The house lay drowsing in the late afternoon,
a cooling shade crept across the valley,
punctuated by the crow’s harsh caws
as it landed briefly, rose up, and flew away.
From room to room I lingered,
caressing the door jambs, the walls,
in gratitude to Providence
for saving us from lightning’s strike.
I’d rarely seen a more even cut
than the one that split the Norway spruce,
when lightning shriveled its living sap,
and woke us with a thunderclap,
raining wooden arrows and stripped bark.
A board sawed cleanly as a two-by-four
hurled to earth, tearing up the hostas.
High in the tree, another perched perilously.
Lightning jumped inside the propane tank,
and the fireplace heater roared into flame,
as loud as wind, gushing black smoke that stank,
while we fled in a daze, and the firemen came.
The creature must have slipped inside unnoticed,
through the open door that stormy night,
as the firemen were moving their equipment,
their lights a tunnel from darkness to darkness,
and everything else was shadow and rain
falling quietly after the fire was put out.
Within that shadow moved another, never noted,
not knowing where it was, or how to leave.
All else was shadow and the sound of rain,
after the lightning died away, and the fire was put out,
only the sound of the rain was left
softly falling to earth, and at last we slept.
They are manuring the field next to us.
Inhale, exhale: odor of animal,
signs of cultivation, the life cycle.
Two nights past the fire, loud scufflings
disturb my rest; on the third,
I am startled as a wild, black bird
soars up the stairs in panicked flight
and orbits my head like a planet out of whack—
a trapped, lost bird that came in by mistake
and now wants out. To show the way,
I go down first, flick on the lights,
fling open the door, “This way to freedom,
it’s so close, if you can only see it.”
And the bird flies out the front door at last.
Author of six poetry collections, Anne Whitehouse is an avid bird watcher.
featured photo cred: Stephen Whitehouse