Hawking in the Boneyard of Stolen Cattle
After Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s The Heat Bird (1983)
In this Easter morning’s starlit dark, I drive west toward the river, grateful for the week of wind and sun that kilned the road to burnished clay so tight the jeep leaves no tracks despite each night’s freeze and morning thaw.
At the ridge top before any graying shows in the east I kill
the engine, climb out and open the back, take up the bag with washed beef heart for the hawk, spare jesses, thawed quail, styptic
for the bird’s feet and ankles in case they slip beneath an errant tooth or claw of this morning’s prey.
I open the carrier. The kill starved hawk steps to my gloved left fist. From her anklets trail thin jesses. Each I take between fore-finger and thumb; weave the greased leather
between fingers to hold her tight against the goatskin glove until.
Even though the violet dark creams in its shift toward cyan, the wind still sifts our scents downslope into arroyos that channel craved snowmelt down off ridge spines into the Rio Grande. A sapphire sky shifts
to yellow. Sudden glare of sun sears my eye. My boot heel rolls wrong off what I believe is stone.
Mistaken, I look down upon the first
bleached bone of a steer. A leg I think. Next a pelvis shattered, yet still cradling last week’s dust. A scatter of bone lifts from the juniper’s
Sheltered, stripped and brittle ribs choir into this new day. Above them, a dead steer’s spine, naked of all flesh and hide, dangles in the lifting wind, unable to shake loose the frayed noose that choked the animal’s keening beneath the butchery tree.
What language, beast
or human, echoed across this killing ground? Did a swollen moon illuminate coyote eyes as honed steel severed tendon? Flayed flesh from bone and bloodied hide.
How many days did heat-birds ride thermals in vigil before all that remained was white and scattered bone? How many rains before the stolen kill’s blood melted into this same red earth?
I step out of juniper’s shelter into Easter light and sudden upslope wind. The hawk unfurls her wings against this shift of air, talons tight
As if my fist were prey, amber eyes sentient of any shadow that dares to move above this earth, spinning into light.
Gary Worth Moody
Santa Fe, New Mexico