Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The hawk

For some reason, though I’m concerned here with thinking about places, I've been writing about birds. Perhaps it is because birds have, from a terrestrial perspective, a peculiar relation to place. They fly through and above but are not, except when they nest, attached. Who knows what they think? Anyway, here’s a story.

Near dusk. We are sitting in the backyard, drinking beer and water, watching a fire turn to coals so we can grill a chicken. Then a hawk swoops over H.’s head. That is what comes to mind when I see the movement. The swoosh, black feathers, speed, a downward and then upward turning arc – it flies like a hawk. A hawk, I say, pointing. Then it alights on a low branch in the black walnut tree beside the house, and in the gloaming it is now not hawk but crow, perched there on the limb, back to us. It is the size of a crow and in the dusk it is as black as one. It is a crow, I say, correcting myself, embarrassed a little not to know the difference. More crows than hawks fly in and out of our trees. It makes more sense that a crow-sized bird, black in profile, is a crow. Then the bird turns its head, looking up the alley, and against the pale sky it is hawk again. A falcon of some sort, smaller than a Cooper’s hawk, larger than a kestrel. Its downward curving bill: a Roman parrot. A terrible beak made for tearing, not poking. There is also the way the bird puts weight on one foot and then the other, like it has a small bird it has captured in its talons. This is a hawk. Or is it a hawk that became a crow that became a hawk? How quickly I’m sure of what I see. How I see not the bird but the bird I see.

(Image above of "Hawk on Pine Branch" by Shunsen Katsukawa [1790-1823] is lifted from Pacific Asia Museum, Japanese Paintings and Prints.)

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