What’s Left Behind After a Hawk Has Seized a Smaller Bird Midair

        for Jericho, with thanks to Carl Phillips

I like men who are cruel to me;
men who know how I will end;
men who, when they touch me,
fasten their shadows to my neck
then get out my face when certain
they haven’t much use for being seen.
I like men to be cruel to me.
Any men who build their bodies into
widths of doors I only walk through
once will do. There’s a difference
between entrances and exits I don’t
have much use for now. I’ve seen
what’s left behind after a hawk
has seized a smaller bird midair.
The feathers lay circled in prattle
with rotting crab apples, grasses passing
between the entrances and exits
of clover. The raptor, somewhere
over it, over it. Cruelty where?
The hell would grief go in a goshawk?
It’s enough to risk the open field,
its rotten crab apples, grasses passing
out like lock-kneed mourners in sun.
There I was, scoping, scavenging
the damage to drag mystery out of
a simple read: two animals wanted
life enough to risk the open field
and one of them took what it hunted.
Each one tells me he wants me
vulnerable. I already wrote that book.
The body text cleaved to the spine,
simple to read as two animals wanting
to see inside each other and one
pulling back a wing to offer—See?
Here—the fastest way in or out
and you knew how it would end.
You cleaved the body text to the spine
cause you read closely. You clock damage.
It was a door you walked through once
before pivoting toward a newer image of risk.

More by Justin Phillip Reed

About the Bees

I do think of them
from time to time—
just now sucking the pulp

of a tangerine
the taste of which
is mostly texture,

in this spin-drunk season
that seems to forget
—us. —itself.

At the job I lost,
their husk carcasses
with the locust bean’s

cracked brown pods
rustled on the brick steps
leading into the white-walled

hours of computer screen;
their compressed toil
missing from the hives

they left agape in the backyard
of the next-door neighbor
who, recently divorced,

had brought us the jars
of honey I spooned into teas
I sipped in the break room

and watched at the window
as he continued to tend
the needle palm and hydrangea.

In the age of loss there is
the dream of loss
in which, of course, I

am alive at the center—
immobile but no one’s queen—
enveloped (beloved) in bees,

swathed in their wings’
wistful enterprise. They pry
the evolved thin eyelids

behind which I replay
the landscape as last I knew it
(crow feathers netting redder suns),

their empire’s droning edge
mindless in the spirals of
my obsolescing ears.

Beneath my feet
what kind of earth
I’m terrified to break

into sprint across to free
myself, to free them
from the myth they make

of me and then bury
below their dance
of manufactory;

what kind of future
they could die for if
punching into me their stings—

what future without risking
the same; and while, in either body
the buzzards of hunger conspire,

what kind of new
dread animal,
this shape we take?

The Vale of Malevolent Volume

unmythologically we dragged the bodies
there to find themselves finally bodies
backward dragged them over the leaves’

unrest limbs trussed in our perforated thirst
in blackness the moon like a nail snatched
from bed their heads with nowhere to turn

but the backs of our throats which were
everywhere throats once such baskets
of holy and hopesburrow then hornets’ nests

of nameinvain then hammer doors and fists
fastening sounds we made were the fiction
of us reciting itself until all our bark was

callous perhaps at last our loudlack
worried them sick the cities were hard
to remember not long after we killed

the lights not long before we plunged them
darkly under claws our concrete scrabble
tunneled under the suburbs and stormed

the stairs and stories and stories of children
here when knots of fingers slipped from root
and crag when we molar nagged the ankles

married bone to bone we understood their
outbursts what a tongue would not contort
enough to soothe we knew that noise

as well as we knew our swarm at last to be
a denser compaction of lightlessness
than any against which their terror raked

itself raw our jaws recorded their melancholy
for flailing which we engraved on the forests
we recognized the cries we didn’t pretend not

to hear them hearing did not make us want to stop

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Snake

Black snake’s a thick
cursive on the road,
sliding yardward.
Dad’s smoking in his chair,
says grab the shovel.
I do as I’m told,
chop its neck
against the gravel
as it flashes white
and bites the air.

Days before,
a grass snake like
a thin vine tendrilled
the shovel handle
on the porch,
green and slow.
The cat ignored it,
I let it go.

The Foxes

They came like emissaries
from a fairy tale. In twilight, framed

by wisteria vines that burdened
the backyard’s powerlines, they dozed

like cats all summer. Awake,
they tussled up and down the honeysuckle,

still kits, all muzzle, light feet.
This was years after your friend

froze to death on the concrete staircase
outside his Florida apartment.

Years after you loaded your last
bomb. Years of desert deployments.

And now this house, its kind porch
and open rooms, the foxes we inherited.

Though eventually they too left,
and the sickness that follows us took root.

Wherever we go, these black blossoms.