I wish I had had a camera with me on my walk the other day. A cooper’s hawk flew low over the road (practically over my head) with a screeching squirrel squirming in its talons, the squirrel’s tail thrashing from side to side. We followed the hawk to where it landed and watched it for a minute. When we tried to get closer the hawk took off, carrying its meal to a more private place. It was amazing to watch this forest hawk zip through a suburban neighborhood.
I tried to capture the moment in a poem, and am not quite satisfied with it. I wrote a tanka–a thirty-one syllable poem. Traditionally a tanka is a lyrical poem that savors beauty, first used between women and men in courtship. It is supposed to include a turn in the third line from an image to a response to an image. Watching a hunting hawk and its struggling prey is awe-inspiring to me, and I find a certain beauty in it–but I’m not sure a form that celebrates lyrical beauty and courtship is the appropriate one! And I really wanted to keep the focus on our observation, not on an emotional response (because then the world would know how strange I truly am, relishing the sight of a squirrel’s demise!) Perhaps I’ll find a better form for this, but for now here’s my poem:
cooper’s hawk flies low
weighted with a screeching squirrel
whose tail flails and jerks
—we gape while hawk lands atop
its now silent, limp-tailed prey
–Buffy Silverman, 2014
Happy spring! To find all of today’s poetry posts, visit Today’s Little Ditty where Michelle is celebrating her birthday bash and Poetry Friday.
27 thoughts on “A Predatory Walk”
This moment in nature is vivid & brava! to you for writing it in a tanka form.
Thanks for providing the path to it.
I’m sure many of us are encouraged to try it with your post here.
And having seen an osprey carrying a squirming fish off, having seen a hawk carrying a flailing snake off, but not having written about these moments in poetry form, this is a call to see those moments in nature as gifts to record.
My first visit to Buffys Blog & I will enjoy returning.
I don’t think it’s strange to be fascinated with such a sight. I would have felt the same way. I love how poets are able to capture these experiences and render them immortal through a few words. Great imagery used in your poem, Buffy.
Well done, Buffy! I like your cool handling of the subject–the only clue that you’re shocked is the word “gaped.” I think writing in a form, like you’ve chosen, is a good way to handle a subject that can too easily become maudlin and sentimental.
We have Cooper’s Hawks in our neighborhood, and in the area around our school. I love it that we get to have the wild close enough to remind us that nature is not groomed and clipped and tamed.
I remember your Cooper’s hawks with their conservative browns from last year’s March Madness–that was one of my favorite poems of the competition!
Hi, Buffy–what an image and what a moment!
You didn’t exactly ask for this, and we’re not in the Garage (I’m almost never in the Garage *sigh*), but you did mention you weren’t quite satisfied with this, so I’ll offer my thought. For me, the word “squawking” is the problem. It rhymes with hawk, but it’s not the hawk’s sound here; and squawk has a comical feel to it that doesn’t fit the shocked, sober tone of your poem. Perhaps screech, scream or shriek might work?
Gorgeous sounds and syllables in this one!
Thanks Heidi–I originally had written shrieking, but it seemed higher pitched than my memory of the sound. I agree that squawking doesn’t work–and it’s more a bird sound. I just listened to another recording of squirrel sounds, and think screeching will work.
These glimpses of predator and prey are always so startling!
They certainly are B.J. Most of the time we live such sheltered lives!
Buffy, if it makes you feel better, I *did* have my camera with me last spring when a hawk caught a rabbit on my neighbor’s lawn. A poetic image is far, far preferable to a digital one! I love your last line — how the hawk silences both its prey and the shocked onlookers.
Oh I would love to capture this with a camera! Thanks for stopping by, Victoria–after the delightful poems you wrote in March Madness, I am one of your new fans.
Beautiful capture, like the hawk! This happened to me a few years ago, & silly me, I ran out to my backyard to try to save the bird (not a squirrel), so the hawk just lifted off and took it elsewhere. I thought I would startle it to make it drop the bird. Not so. Even in your intro you spoke of the tail. It must have made a big impression on you Buffy. Thanks for explaining the tanka too-interesting. You captured quite a moment in yours.
That tail seemed to have a life of its own.
You captured that moment very well, Buffy – we have many red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons here, so I see them swooping often, and wonder what they see that I cannot. In this case, you found out!
Lucky you to have peregrines nearby! There are some living on an office building in Kalamazoo that keep the local pigeon population in check.
Nice. You definitely captured the moment. I think I would have felt very divided if I’d witnessed it–both concern for the squirrel but a keen interest in the hawk. This week I saw Black Vultures on my street. That was weird. And did I ever tell you about the time I saw a squirrel eat a bird? That was downright disturbing.
I did not know that a squirrel would eat a bird! I have seen a red squirrel grab a robin’s egg–but never a bird.
Great tanka! There is definitely beauty in the poem and in the event. I’m so glad you got to have an “up close and personal” with a hawk!
Thanks, Donna–glad you agree with the beauty in watching a predator. It’s a different kind of beauty, but I find it fascinating.
–“whose tail flails and jerks” – very effective line (poor squirrel).
I’m captivated by hawks, too. We had quite a few at our old house, even a nest one year with broad-winged hawks. At our new house, there’s a resident red-tailed hawk above the neighborhood, and I think a broad-winged hawk here, too – I’ve seen/heard a blue jay imitating it! [In Florida, my stepdad and I discovered a jay imitating a red-shouldered hawk – we’d both been completely fooled.]
Thanks for sharing, Buffy!
The jays and other birds made quite a racket when our hawk landed–they’re very brave when a hawk has a squirrel in its talons.
Great poem, Buffy! We get lots of hawks around here.
They’re amazing to watch, aren’t they, Catherine?
I like your poem. I’ll probably like the future versions too.
Thanks, Ann–I will let you know if/when I revise this one.
Would you believe I saw an almost identical sight in my own suburban neighborhood a few weeks ago? I, too, was drawn in by the live nature show on my neighborhood walk. I can’t comment on your form choice since I’m no expert, but I thought your poem illustrated the excitement of the moment very well!
Thanks, Michelle, and thanks for hosting today!