A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2009, vol 5 no 4

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Stephen W. Leslie


Red-tailed Hawk

On the way to work I noticed a large bird by the side of Rt 66. On a sudden impulse I pulled over. It was a large red-tailed hawk decked in a gorgeous mane of white and brown feathers. One-inch claws clenched, his yellow eyes closed, his body crumpled face down in the asphalt. Eighteen-wheelers roared by, their backwash ruffling his feathers. Wearing work gloves, I placed the hawk on the car floor. As I left, a young female red-tailed hawk glided by low, as if saying goodbye to her mate. Two more young hawks watched from the trees.

For the rest of the day I drove around with his body. The only scent was the smell of fall leaves.

Perhaps it was my imagination but I felt I heard the ever-so-faint whisper of my Native ancestors as I drove. Arriving home, I gently placed his body in the shed to keep the wandering dogs away.

Sunday night, when it was dark, I lit a bundle of desert sage and approached the hole I had dug earlier. I laid him in that shallow grave, chanting a sacred mantra as the nearly full moon rose directly overhead in the clear starlit sky. As faint wisps of sage smoke lingered, I played the wooden flute softly, then with my bare hands buried this beautiful creature.

Although I would have liked one of his tail feathers, I refrained, not wanting to desecrate his body.

My ancestors agreed

Cool, crisp moonlit sky
A hand dappled with age spots
The smell of fresh earth

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