haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2005, vol 1 no 1

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William J. Higginson, USA

Hawk

Grandpa died. We went to the old summer cottage-turned-home that he built of second-hand lumber twenty or thirty years before, stayed for a funeral. We didn't know then how he had sat, for a year or more, twenty-four hours a day in a chair there in the kitchen, his legs all massive with fluid and not working, how Nanna had sat up most nights to keep him from building a fire on top of the wood stove and burning the place down around them. I guess Nanna and Mom talked while Dad and I went out to walk along the unpaved road to the meadow, he carrying Nanna's bolt-action .22 in case we saw the hawk that had been bothering the neighbors' chickens.

Out there over the meadow, over that tangle of alfalfa quickly planted for the nitrogen it would put into the soil, we saw it, a large chicken-hawk. At least that's what they called the sharp-shinned hawks in that neighborhood of small farms. "Large"--though the sharp-shinned is the smallest hawk common to the area. Recalling its plumage now more than fifty years later, I can still see the mottled head of a female on that bird, its two-foot wingspread.

We stood about fifty yards out from the edge of the meadow in the shin-deep alfalfa, staring straight overhead, squinting against the sun a third of the way up the sky. The hawk floated a hundred feet or more above us on the updraft of the heating field, spiraling to one side, then the other. Perhaps she thought we might stir up the shrews or mice that moved among the moist furrows.

lazy maybe
but that hawk's working
circles in the heat

Dad loaded the rifle, leaned back, lifted it to his shoulder. He'd been a crack shot since before he was ten, when he received his first .22, used to go out to the woods and bark squirrels for the pot. We both knew it was an almost impossible shot, directly overhead, the air unstable and the light deceiving. The rifle popped, and we saw the hawk wobble, then slope away, gliding down toward the nearest treetops, to the east, toward the house. Walking back, we couldn't figure out if it was really hit or just scared off.

As we turned into the heavily shaded driveway that ran through the marshy patch and then up toward the house, we stopped. There, on a branch not eight feet off the ground, the hawk sat, watching us. She was ours, and knew it, and so we were hers, too. Slowly, Dad thumbed another bullet into the rifle, raised it to his shoulder again, and administered the coup de grâce, she watching intently the whole time.

shot through
the hawk falls like a sigh
into rank weeds

 

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