The kestrel flew around the room close to the walls like a bat, in a tight orbit of disciplined panic. Moths bump off walls and lamps but raptors are always predators. Their competence is savage, even the kestrel’s, a small hawk with a songbird’s voice. He had escaped a park ranger readying him for visitors. For ten seconds or more I was alone with the circling bird. I felt fear, pity, admiration, helplessness; the kestrel – fear and shame, the indignity of entrapment? In “Red-Tailed Hawk” (Taken in Faith: Poems, 2002) Helen Pinkerton quietly celebrates the otherness of a predator. The poem is dedicated to Kenneth Fields, fellow poet and Yvor Winters alumnus:
“Your hawk today floated the loft of air
That lifts each morning from the valley floor.
Dark idler, predator of mice and hare
And greater vermin, as I watched him soar
“Out of my sight, taking a certain path,
Knowing from ancient blood, instinctive might,
How to survive beyond the present drift,
He seemed to shift from nothingness toward flight.
“Yet it was real, the warm column of air—
Like being, unrecorded, always there.”
The shift in the final couplet, like the hawk’s effortless course correction, is breathtaking. No longer is the bird the focus, but the thermal, “the warm column of air,” the invisible shaft of energy buoying the bird. Hawks, like all creation, move from nothingness to being, invisibly.
[Cynthia Haven wrote a fine profile of Pinkerton when Taken in Faith: Poems was published.]