Red-Tailed Hawk

                                                                          Photo by Mark Seth Lender

A Red-tailed Hawk at Home in the World


Nothing turned her gaze away
from the meal she was making,
one foot pinning the dead squirrel
to the tamped earth and treading it,

the other tugging at sinews
like a robin pulling worms after rain,
or my hand correcting an ill-stitched seam,
untying the red strings and slipping

the meat off in splinters close
to the bone, the squirrel's pelt flayed
and unzipped from the flesh,
and head snipped from the stump,

the soft white fur of its underside
still protecting the small hole if its sex,
the killer's cheek pale green, a blush
edging the beak where bits of the meal

hang on her head pumping up and down--
and what a head! The top glazed brights as burned
sugar, the white feathers under it soft as cream,
the sweep of her back stenciled

with whitecaps covering the dark
appetites of the sea, right down to her talons
sharpened like moons, and all this
four feet from the curb and the hum of cars

on their human business.

—Nancy Willard (b. 1936)

Field Note

Redtails like a perch with a view, and the side of the road fits the protocol perfectly. Perhaps the expanse attracts, the highway like a river unwinding into the distance. Or perhaps, small animals up against that impassible asphalt shore are easy prey. In winter, look for redtails near the top of a leafless tree, facing sunrise. The breast, creamy white, is the part they warm first making them easy to spot at that time of day.  Though the hawk's wings are darker and therefore more absorbent of heat, they form an insulating layer above the vital core.  Better to take the brightness in closer to the heart.

Mark Seth Lender

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Poem reprinted with the permission of the author. All Rights Reserved.