Today we gathered again, and I was asked to post the following.  It was a quick write in response to a single reading of David Bottoms’ “Eye to Eye” (which follows the actual write).

Birds are not people – though some of them can, at least in part, “think” like people do.  They can problem solve – some even abstractly – and use tools.  But I think something much more basic must have gone on here – always assuming the encounter was not pure poetic license.

I’m thinking predator to predator, omnivore to carnivore.  Perhaps a recognition of size. But I’m sure with a recognition of relative speed and mobility too.  At least on the part of the hawk.  Active predators notice these things (as would, I assume, active prey).

I find myself wondering about his father.  Were those “terrible jaundiced eyes,” those “orange inflamed eyes,” characteristic of his final disease only?  Or were they simply characteristic of him?  Was he a predator who left silence in his wake?  Or was this simply the final indignity visited upon him by death?

He pit his gaze against the hawk.  A predator’s gaze of challenge to another predator.  Unblinking.  In your face.  Perhaps as one might stare death herself in the face.  There is no meek acceptance here.  Rather, the eternal challenge of life striving, fighting, clinging fiercely …  And yet trembling.


Suddenly I noticed the silence — the robins, jays,  mockingbirds
all gone quiet, the cardinals and song sparrows quite.

Then, as Jack and I turned onto the homeward loop of our walk,
the sky startled us with a shriek —

two hawks circling above the pines, screaming from tree to tree,
two hawks from the heavy nest

above our neighbor’s house, screaming then going silent
in the branches of a Bradford pear.

We crossed under that tree and stopped to catch
the larger hawk, the female, eye to eye.

Jack sat by the curb and stared.  I stared.
And, head cocked, leaning forward, she stared, incredulous,

working her jaw, quietly, nervously.
I made faces, snarled, bared my teeth, and the hawk

never flinched.  Only stared until those orange inflamed eyes
became the terrible jaundiced eyes of my father

that final moment he raised his lids.
(The silenced voice tells the truth.)

Like my father’s jaw, her jaw trembled.