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HAWK (originally from The Book of Joby)

by Mark Ferrari 

 

            Gold of feather!

            Fierce of eye!

            Defiance in it’s hunter’s cry!

            Clipped, its wings.

            Baroque, its cage.

            Deep, its grief and old, its rage.

            Its master won it on a bet when it was just a fledgling chick. Thinking he’d acquired a pet, he clipped it’s wings and hung a stick for it to perch upon before his fawning friends and guests, and dream of aeries high and wild, swept clean of noisy pests.

            Long it sat, and regal grew, and longed to soar but never flew. What kind of man acquires a hawk, to clip its wings so guests can gawk?

            ‘Magnificent!’, the tired refrain of flatterers who stopped to gaze, but couldn’t see the cold disdain with which the hawk returned their praise, nor notice how its talons clenched and gouged its polished perch, or feel their empty hearts laid bare by eyes God made to search.

            But, oh, its master, he could tell. He saw the hawk’s pain all too well. And soon he found he couldn’t bear to meet the raptor’s regal stare.

            ‘Damn!’ the angry man would cry, ‘I wish to God I’d set it free! But now I dare not let it fly, for surely it would turn on me and have revenge for all the years I’ve kept it prisoner here. Why, I could never leave my house, and not look up in fear!

            ‘There you sit, and there must stay. My mistake, but you must pay. I fear you’ve grown too fierce to free. But then, you’ll live in luxury. I’ll guarantee you that at least. Come now! What other bird of prey need only sit and preen and feast?’

            The hawk’s cold gaze said, ‘go away.’

            And deep inside its master’s gut, the grubs of conscience gnawed, and whispered that he’d ruined a creature made to fly by God.

            In time the man would not go near the golden bird he’d once held dear. He didn’t want it spoken of, this thing he owned but couldn’t love. He bade his servants see that it got every kind of dainty fare in hopes it would accept its lot, and cease that cold accusing stare that fixed him now from in his mind, and haunted him in dreams, in which he fled in vain to hide from angry raptor screams.

            But though he never saw the bird, it chaffed him raw to know that somewhere ‘neath his roof, those eyes still glared their chill reproof, until, at last, a desperate man, knowing there would never be escape in any other plan, he told his servants, ‘Set it free.’ It had been a year and more since he had had it clipped, as no one would go near it now for fear of being ripped.

            So, fearfully, they went to do the dreadful task, as ordered to, afraid that they themselves would be the ones it raked as it went free. But some while later back they came to say the cage was open wide, but that it seemed the bird was tame, for it just sat there, still inside. And none of them, for all they tried, could get the bird to leave. It didn’t seem to comprehend the concept of ‘reprieve’.

            So! he thought. We set it free, but here is where it wants to be. I’ve been driven mad with guilt while it’s enjoyed the nest I built!

            And suddenly, where guilt had burned, leapt flames of angry fire, which quickly turned remorse and shame to proud and spiteful ire. And off he stormed to where the cage sat open near the sill, forgetting how he once had feared the bird he went to kill.

            Through the door, in righteous rage, the ‘master’ burst, to find the cage open. And the hawk inside, with one shrill cry and wings spread wide, flew forth with talons raised to rake the man who now cringed down in fear, and saw too late his great mistake. The hawk had waited for him here.

            But though he lay there now, defenseless, no attack occurred. Though it could have savaged him, the mighty hawk demurred.

            And when at last the ‘master’ dared to look and see why he had fared so well against the hawk’s attack, he flinched to find it looking back from where it perched upon the sill, eyeing him with such disdain, that just the memory, even still, inflicts a wound of greater pain than any that its beak or talons might have tried to tear - a wound from which the man still finds no refuge anywhere.

            Blazing, its eyes!

            ‘Coward,’ they said. ‘An earthbound bug that’s better dead.’

            And then, with one defiant cry, the golden bird was in the sky.

            ‘Watch me sail the endless blue!” screeched the soaring hawk on high. ‘I have sat the perch like you, but you will never learn to fly! I’d not stoop to tear the flesh of one who clipped my wings for fear!’

             And then its ‘master’ wept for shame, and watched the proud hawk disappear.