Sunday, February 03, 2008

some ancient pain

In Bettie M. Sellers’ “The Morning of the Red-Tailed Hawk” the speaker seems to liken herself to the hawk, seeing herself as a predator, a source of pain, her religion the religion of the hawk rather than the dove.

The Morning of the Red-Tailed Hawk

In holy books, in church, I hear curses,
see stones hurled at bodies caught in acts
that spurn the law of Moses and of God. I,

like Saul, have judged, held coats in hands
washed clean in the blood of a Bible-belt Lamb.

But, from my window now, I follow the red-tailed
hawk, gliding, imperceptibly adjusting
to turbulence, scanning his territory
for unwary rodents in the tall marsh grass.

I too cruise, needing emotion, words to write.
Today, I intercepted a man’s glance, saw his eyes
smoothing the light hairs on another man’s arm
as they walked the beach.

These two are lovers in some sheltered cove,
where my claws could intrude, sharp
as the red-tailed hawk, his talons sunk in flesh.

I will not write their names. Deeper than books,
than church, I have caught some ancient pain,
accepting it to cup, as in a chalice,
between my trembling hands.


It’s an intriguing poem on homophobia, the speaker obviously conflicted, having been steeped in the ideology of hatred, but able to put herself in the place of the victim of “stones” and judgment. She seems to know the men (“I will not write their names”) so could expose them to danger, be a danger to them herself.

I’m having trouble getting a read on the last sentence. To what pain is she referring? The pain of social rejection & judgment? That’s certainly older than and “deeper than books, / than church …” Is it empathy that fills the chalice; she’s feeling the pain she’s served others – in philosophy & imagination (“I hear curses … have judged … my claws … sunk in flesh”)?

Odd use of the one word: cruise. It’s gay slang for seeking sex. “I too cruise, needing emotion …” And eye contact is a significant part of cruising, “… intercepted a man’s glance.” Is jealousy one of the emotions behind the poem? He’s already taken? The poet has a female name so I’m reading the speaker as female, but a poet can speak from a persona not herself; does the poem change if the speaker is male?

source: Anthology of Magazine Verse 1980

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