Raptor, the second book by the author of the widely praised Citizen, is a collection of formal poems and measured free verse unified by its investigation of our ancient poetic, mythic, and scientific fascination with birds of prey: hawks, eagles, owls, vultures, and falcons. Drawing extensively on his own experience working at a raptor rehabilitation center, along with a variety of sources ranging from medieval texts on falconry to the latest conservation studies of raptor anatomy and habitat, Andrew Feld shows these killing birds to be mirrors for humanity, as indicator species, and as highly charged figures for the intersection of that which we call “wild” and that which we think of as domesticated or domesticand how these opposed terms apply to the imperiled natural world, to our human social relations, and to our most private, interior selves. In these poems, Feld does not shy away from either the damaging world or “the new, more comprehensive view / damage affords” in its aftermath.
About the Author
Andrew Feld is assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Washington and editor in chief of the Seattle Review. He is the author of Citizen.
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By ANDREW FELD
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESSCopyright © 2012 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWe call raptorial all those birds who, employing their powerful flight and the special fitness of their members, prey upon any other bird or beast they are able to hold and whose whole sole sustenance is the flesh of such animals. These are the eagles, hawks, owls, falcons and other similar genera. They feed only upon their prey—never upon dead flesh or carrion—and are therefore called rapacious birds.
Among the characteristic forms of their organs may be mentioned: the beak, which in birds of prey is generally curved, strong, hard, and sharp, claws that are bent inward and are hard and needle-pointed; retracted eyes; a short neck, short legs, and the posterior toe of each foot very strong. The female is always larger than the male. Not all the foregoing is true of non-raptorial birds.
Functionally also they differ in that raptorials are more keen-sighted and have more acute hearing than other birds. They are strong in flight but walk badly. They dislike water and drink little, fly alone, and live long. They drive their young early from the nest and then abandon them; and this behavior is not that of nonrapacious birds.
The Art of Falconry, Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen
What I wanted was a goshawk on my wrist,
A docile bit of wilderness in my care.
Her setting-sun red eye returned my stare.
Inside the cage I am a nurse, waiter,
And janitor. Outside, an austringer.
I searched for one all day in the forest.
Now Chiefly poet. Now Shakes. Now sing. Now rare.
I searched for one all day in the forest
So I could cross the bird off my life-list.
At the Center I fed her as you hold this
Poem—at a reading distance. The flared
Warning of her red eyes refuted my stare:
You will never cross me off your life-list.
Now Chiefly poet. Now Shakes. Now sing. Now rare.
You wanted a little bit of wilderness
Held docile on your wrist. What could be tamer
Than extinct? At the trail head, the profiled picture.
If you see this bird, call our 800 number.
Because except what you allow me there
Is no wilderness, there is no wilderness.
Now Chiefly poet. Now Shakes. Now sing. Now rare.
CASCADE RAPTOR CENTER : CAPTURE
I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk.
— Robinson Jeffers, "Hurt Hawks"
He hadn't meant to hit the bird, he said
repeatedly, although not one of us
who had to mend the wing-shot hawk believed him.
We lifted the red-tail, half-dead with loss
of blood, out of the box she had arrived in
like a small mummy from a sarcophagus.
When she flicked the milky filters of her eyelids
I saw my shadow-shape projected across
a screen, grown representative and monstrous.
He hadn't meant to hit the bird, he said
stubbornly, as to convince himself, or us,
his punishment—to stay in the corner where
quails and rats defrosted in a trough
while his father waited out in the car
and we tried to keep alive the bird he shot—
was too severe, unjust. He hadn't intended
any injury, not even as he pulled
the trigger and watched it fall into his neighbor's field.
He hadn't meant to hit the bird, he said.
The gun, a birthday present, made the act seem
part of a ceremony: what better way
to mark the date of your arrival in
this world—the day was his eleventh birthday—
than by taking out a life? The hawk screamed
once as it fell from the distance where it lived
so far beyond the extension of his will
it seemed impossible to hit, or hurt, or kill.
He hadn't meant to hit the bird, and I
tried to follow the thought back to those fields
where nothing ever changes but the weather
and what the work of his farming neighbors yields.
The boredom that turns into a kind of fever.
The stirring inner life. He was still a child,
cornered, in fatigues, and trying not to cry
as we ignored him—if he'd killed a man we'd all
have been the more compassionate, the less appalled.
He hadn't meant to hit the bird. Who cared?
While we immobilized the broken wing
the boy stayed frozen in the corner where
his father told him to stay, his rat-tail dangling
limply into the rodent-like fine hairs
across his neck. There was internal bleeding.
With surgical tweezers we picked bone shards
and dirt out of the bullet hole, and went
about the careful business of his punishment.
The silence arrived with them, full-blown and brittle,
along with the hawk,
swaddled in a towel once white but now use-yellowed
and grained with green swaths of degreaser,
then placed in a box
as per our instructions. As an instrument, blind
to the long-term results, we could only speak
of the immediate effects,
which apparently were mutually punishing.
The image I have of them is the brick-red hood
of their Subaru curving
past moss-covered rock faces on Route 126,
the two-lane highway leading like a fallen kite's string
through McKenzie Bridge,
Blue River, Leaburg, Nimrod, Walterville, Thurston,
rural POs and gas stations shouldering up out of
the fog then sinking
back under, to Springfield and Eugene where we
were prepped and waiting. I can't keep my mind
out of the front seat.
In the rear of the Outback the high-school science
texts he teaches slide on their backs, open and riffling
from biology to chemistry
and geology, the box full of bird in the back seat
a kind of case study as the estranged creature
beside him hugs his
nylon chest strap and stares at the dash and he flips
through the little he knows of child psychology.
He's driving too fast.
All the way there the McKenzie seethed on the left,
spring-fed rivulets muscled with melt, each tributary
where it met the river rising out of its bed and over
the top to those of us who prefer our aggression
more passive. Water
that turbid is surface all the way to the bottom.
When I started this poem I was concerned
with shame, that undercurrent
stretched between them, tensing the silence
which resumed in an altered pitch after the shot
interrupted the flat fields
and echoed back like a second shooter and the hawk
slid down the sky screeching. I think the boy
could use a little music.
He'd like to hear the thin mouth of the car stereo sing
a page or two from the Great American Songbook.
The father is still running
across the field. After the interrogation, anger
will twist the vise-like muscles of his jaw shut.
Inside are eddies
which at their base resolve into black circles
the same size and shape as the volume and tone knobs
on both sides of the stereo's
face. Just because the songs are minimal variations
on a few themes, bright gloss or rebuttal, doesn't mean
they're any less heartfelt.
They're still us. When the boy tried to turn the radio on
his father slapped his hand away, which was the only
time they touched
in the three hours it took them to drive from Redmond
to the Raptor Center. Even the self-winding voices
of talk radio would
have bound them to the familiar. Even unconscious,
a bit of froth in a furrow of the High Desert Country's
expanse, the red-tail,
a gorgeous pale morph, impressed both with the weight
of what it had fallen from and into. The little abysmal
mark of its contact
with us near the right shoulder, bleeding. The father
couldn't breathe. The son didn't need to.
THE ART OF FALCONRY
Recalcitrant and hard to train, the haggard
goshawk clutches my wrist, the pattern on
his front like shadowed snow called mail: jesses,
leash, and swivel, his bells
replaced by a telemetry device,
he images a sense-intelligence
wholly responsive to the summer field,
to him alive with switches turning on and off.
In hooded sleep the ornament he is
more than requites the disciplined patience
the passage bird caught beyond her second
season demands; as in
any late-life marriage, instinct's awry
until rewired, as appetite provides
an access to that balance or accord
where difference defines itself by recognition.
Unblinded, each blink of his two-lidded eyes
admits another fraction into the scope
of his attention. The way you hear the day
click into focus as he lifts
a lizard foot to test his jess then pliers it
around your thumb is fucking awesome, as is
the release of when you throw him to the winds.
Hidden in reeds, a goldfinch shifts to full alarm.
The straps and husbandry, the exercise
of wills chafing at limit, pricing cartons
of beef and chicken stock at the QFC,
as in nostalgia's cost-
ineffective false binary the goshawk
follows with love and active heat the game:
drawn to the lure of a shared diet, we wait
for love's connecting strings to latch onto the kill.
Since marriage is a form of making, some days
we're lightning-struck. Others, faculty meetings.
In the kitchen reeds and switchgrass click as the dishwasher,
machine, thrums through the stages of its mimic
intelligence—soak, scrub, rinse—and in the moment
the machine allows for us, I hover above
you, stalled by an imperative wider than thought.
The field grows distant. Then closer than ever.
From below the creased topography of our sheets
a sleep leaches up to claim us, against appetite,
which only sharpens on
the whetstone of you. The blinds are back down.
There is a gravity, a weight, to each
word we allow into this intimacy, here,
before silence clamps its open mouth over us.
"Birds of prey have no song." — James Richardson
This happened on my first day there. Class,
pay attention. The bird was bronze, pine-mulch
brown and beaten copper wire, not golden. Think
before you speak. Much can be conveyed
through tone. The eagle's voice was sampled
from Metal Machine Music, an album that can
drive roaches out of your apartment. It's good
to think of music as having a function, praise,
or lament, satire or warning. It's good to think.
Never walk in front of an unhooded eagle.
Remember, experience is a dim lamp
which illuminates only the one who carries it.
Wearing a little leather cap and held tightly
between my upper arms, the eagle was as if
asleep: it was like holding a baby swaddled
in razor wire, although size and the caution
accorded to the useless wing made the experience
for me a very Pietà kind of thing. God, won't you
pay attention? When a raptor has been injured
so it no longer can survive in the wild we call
that condition educational, which doesn't mean
it's tame. To trim the talons, fully extend
the leg, and the muscles will pull the foot open.
There is the small glee we feel in the presence
of elegant machinery, which is separate
from its function. Use dog-nail clippers
for the claws, for the beak a small power-sander
like hobbyists use on dollhouses. The similarities
between Ren Faires and wildlife rehabilitation
are more than a shared love of leather gauntlets
and Elizabethan terminology, and some of these birds
are named for Tolkien's elves, which is kind of
embarrassing? Another function is to encase
the significant moment in amber although here
they use 2 x 4s and chicken wire. Back under
her Plexiglas roof, Eowyn is a thought followed
to its complete, unhappy conclusion. Think
of Schoenberg's emancipation of dissonance, of
Ornette Coleman and all 17 minutes of "Sister Ray."
Expand your definition of song. Avoid aphorism.
With spring there came that sense of clarity
we'd missed all through the rainy months, although
the somnolescent clouds still held their ground;
the change was slow and what we felt was less
the promise of enameled days or that
love's blade might strike the jetting vein again
than that the bulk of days had shifted in a new
direction, away from us, as the sky thinned.
In March I heard Louise in her office
above the visitors' center haranguing
her forestry contact about the lack
of useful information on their website;
then, descending from the flight cage, I found
four deer legs the funny state troopers left
propped at a standstill in the gauzy mist
as if they had outrun their animal.
A cold wisp licked the back of my neck as I
considered how the bureaucracy that owns
our birds from molt to tail feather compensates
for the lack of any central intelligence
with a kind of wit barbed with malevolence.
I wrapped the road-killed legs in plastic bags
and buried them deep in the outdoor freezer.
It was like that: the vibrant image, the aftermath.
Days spent crawling under shrieking kestrels
to scrub out their whitewashed black plastic tub
or in a crabbed dance with our ferruginous hawk
scrunching away on his Astroturf-covered perch,
keeping as much distance as his small cell
allowed between us as if by mutual
agreement—although our only mutual
is the tethering hunger we use to bind our birds
to us and overcome their deep-rooted
abhorrence of the human face, dreadful
to her as to all other animals.
Always, the face of man is the lion's face.
As our almost-eagle stretched out a wing
like a broken comb, I felt again the shame
of an instinctive reaction to the powerlessness
of love rebounding on its object.
Outside the rotting salmon dumpster-stink
which seemed to issue from our osprey's wound
and filled her cage, or where our turkey vulture
Lethe pecked at the exposed veins that are
my bootlaces, the spring flowers bloomed out
a counterpoint, white petals of Trillium
echoing the green, Star-Flowered Solomon's Seal,
Indian Plum and the Red-Flowering Currant.
You know how any practiced speech becomes
theatrical?—so the rote recitals of
my guide talk turned my voice into a stranger's
leading you through the small cell of my self-
consciousness, a voice at odds with its subject,
ingratiating, false—and these cages
only numbered and labeled boxes in
the warehouse where they're storing the disaster.
Then the little difference between the dead
bird in my hand and the one with a yellow eye
aimed at my handful of quail narrowed to nothing
and I became elegy's functionary.
Brown-veined petals of the Yellow Wood Violet,
deep rose flowers of the Salmonberry,
Star-Flowered Solomon's Seal, Indian Plum,
Red-Flowering Current and Western Trillium.
Here is my day: a drawer of mice I shake
to keep excessive life from spilling out
then slide in the asphyxiating oven.
The resigned feet entering the beak, the tail
curlicuing into a question mark, as if
still curious of what it entered into.
An owl with one eye cataracted blind,
the other bright with purpose, focused beyond,
to where the netted shadows of the state
forest fall on the bright borders of our
groomed lawns and trails. At my shift's end the sky
also locks down, and in the old growth trees
surrounding us a wooing, hooing voice
evades its source as we listen, trying
to draw shades of meaning between the call
and its corresponding, captive answer.
We like to think they call each other out
of love, which we find sweet; what weirds us out
is not the great horned male moving inside
the light-excluding heights just outside our
borders, his voice always one flight removed
from the still-trembling throat we feel as ours,
become the body of his audience,
or how it brings our half-blind female awake
to the extreme of her confinement, clambering up
the chicken wire; but how they start calling
too late, too late to each other before
it's registered on us as dark, and I'm
still busy with my tasks—so much, this late,
impossible to finish, down on my knees
with a handful of pellets grained with mice teeth
and vertebrae, smaller and finer than life.
Excerpted from Raptor by ANDREW FELD Copyright © 2012 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Cascade Raptor Center : Capture....................4
The Art of Falconry....................10
The Art of Falconry....................21
Little Viral Song....................29
There : An Epistle....................39
Epilogue to "There"....................43
After Johnny Carson's Final Appearance on The Tonight Show....................44
Tongue : An Ode....................46
Cascade Raptor Center : Release....................66
Raptor : A Brief Lexicon....................76