Red-Tailed Hawk
   by Michael Baldwin Michael Baldwin

Michael Baldwin holds a Master’s degrees in Political Science and Library Science. He was a library administrator and professor of American Government until retiring in 2014 to become a full-time writer and creativity consultant. His poetry book, Scapes, won the Eakin Book Award, 2011, and his poetry chapbook won the Morris Memorial Award in 2012. He has also published a mystery-thriller novel, Murder Music, and Passing Strange, a collection of Science-Fiction short stories. Mr. Baldwin resides in Benbrook, Texas.

One summer, during my teenage,
I took the train from Fort Worth
to Amarillo to visit my cousin, Boyd,
on his family’s chicken ranch in Dumas.
He and I spent many days exploring on foot
those high, dry plains of Texas’ Panhandle.

It was a country of scrub brush, prickly pear,
and occasional puny mesquite trees,
far outnumbered by oil rigs, looking like
mechanical dinosaurs with obsessive, compulsive
disorder, pecking methodically at the earth.

Boyd and I spent many an imaginal hour
in that meager, unwelcoming environment,
finding rocks, and lizards to chunk them at,
and clouds cavorting amazing displays
of mythical creatures in that huge, hard sky.

Then we found the most amazing thing:
a red-tailed hawk’s nest,
the size of a bassinet, woven intricately
from stems and grasses, and cunningly
hidden within a low, thorn-studded shrub.
It contained two fledglings, soft, plump,
and fluffy with just-formed feathers.
In another few weeks they would be trying to fly.

But we couldn’t keep our hands off
these strange, magical creatures,
with their bright, fierce eyes
and clenching talons, sharp as
the thorns that guarded them.

We robbed them from their nest,
wrapped them in our shirts,
and took them triumphantly home.
We naively imagined to make them pets.
I even planned to take mine
back home on the train.

Boyd’s father took them from us
and bashed them to bloody messes
near the chicken coops they might
have raided as adults.

Boyd and I were distraught
and I was outraged at this wanton
destruction of life and beauty.
I realized only much later, of course,
the sin was mine.

Now, as an adult, every time I see
a red-tailed hawk, soaring lordly
against the harsh, high Texas sky,
I remember that fierce-eyed fluff
I carried warm against my chest,
its heart thudding against mine
with innocent, obdurate trust,
and I begin, again, to understand.

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