A Construction of Beaks

In new listings, the bald eagle, Haliaceius leucocephalus, replaces the southern sub-species, Haliaceius leucocephalus leucocephalus, which has been listed as endangered since 1967, causing a great deal of confusion due to the similarity of the birds and their overlapping habitat.Wilderness Report, April 1978

I

Mother, I should like to change my name, if it please, and before
      I fly the nest
I should rather be like our uncles
Who fly a more-northern course;
I do not want to be mistaken for one of the south,
      and less-protected, and dead.

But, Son, eagles have no names;
      you are built of coagulated wind
            and wasp-chewed sky
And there is no room in your heart for names,
      nor lead.
We need not think in terms of words, but only visions
      and their Doing; I had a friend-egret once
            who told me that if we had but the strength not to learn the
                  word bullet it would bounce gently off our hides
She said "When you begin to understand their words
      you will be ensnared
            by signs"
And so do not ask me about someone else's words for our family;
You have no name
      to change. Repeat after me:
            I am sky, I am wind—
Repeat:
I have no name
      to change.

II

Father,
I want to take the life of an eagle.
Then I shall have bagged
      Fierce Pride, and I shall have its heart shellacked,
            and eat its brain
And so be a Man.

I must be, and always will be, played according to Hoyle.
Life would be so empty were it not for this Hoyle fellow—things'd be
      more direct
            but it creates no jobs.
God I'm glad they're not butterflies
      else we might have to index our prospective kills by cloacal flare
            or tarsi—but those names!
We mill about below, wailing on ground, confused.
What shall we kill?—and we want to have done God's Right Thing.
Give me something simple in my sights;
      their ranges overlap right over the henhouse and I cannot afford
            to move to Georgia to be made a Man.
I'm no angel but I'm not wanton;
I want to take the lives
      only of those beasts that are in season.
(And there are a few of us here who love to see automobile wrecks,
      and gawk at four-alarm fires, and so we wish to have the thrill of
            spotting one of a kind so Close to the Edge
                  of Leaving for All Time: "Gods! Tim, look! Leucocephalus
                        and him so close to annihilation...! Gods! How elemental!
                              Oh! To be one of Men—the power in us...!—)
Lord, if it please, for us to be men and kill, properly,
Give us, O,
Give us legislation,
      amen.

And give us words
To help us name Those Whose One Foot We Shove Into the Grave and
Their Slightly Safer Brothers;
Keep It Simple, Stupid; but by all means give us a Work
O Lord,
      amen.

III

Were mountains created 'midst the hum of words?
Then can those same mountains be saved from covetous words
      by the application of yet other words?
Expediency, expediency
And all of your proud faces...

First, and by all means, give those science fellows outside a job;
      that of naming the Live in a Dead Language:
That irony should be fun to bear.
Perhaps we could have the birds sport armbands
      as war-ghettoed Jews were made to wear.
No? Then
Inject the eggs of the doomed with dye, I say—and let not
The Executive Immunity Of The North be stained
      upon a single soaring southern face.

I had
      a vision
That you need but one hating man who kills
      and you will have a line outside your door in an hour
Of Those Qualified to Save.
Keep it simple, Lord; but, if it please, gimme a job
I am no angel, but I am not wanton;
In thy name
      I may Kill, or Save. In any event, be on my Side,
Amen.

I'd like to rescue ants, but first I need to stick my foot into the nest.
O we are sorry for you, and shall use all of our resources now
      to put you to rights.
"The Hopis refused to file any claim on the ground that 'they
      had already claimed the whole Western Hemisphere long before
            Columbus' great-grandmother was born. We will not ask a
                  white man, who came to us recently,
"'For a piece of land that is already ours.'"
What if your lives were up for legislative grabs? Would you speak?—and from northerners and
      southerners, the fliers, none—
            no condescension to
                  words

"Here, sign this petition to save the same trees that made its
      paper."

IV

Don't be silly—it's built into the
      beak
            like a Hapsburg lip
And if you ever let them pin you "proud," they've given you
      something to lose:
            a contrived Place, and, if you fail them, their contrived
Disgrace.
Fly free, Wind-Son,
      you have no name to
            change.

Mother, please—can there be no change with the times?
If this be north, I'll be happy with silence, in grace;
If this be south or anywhere in between, they'll shoot first and classify
      later.
This can all be solved, I'm thinking, with the carrying of proper ID.

My love-Son,
Don't get caught up in their words—you cannot know how
      important this is. We have no signs—
We must be, and that, eagles.

Mother, I love you, but...
But I do not want to die.

You must go the eagle's way, Young Lord Flier,
      even if it means to soar nameless before guns.
To resist, to speak,
      to point yourself out as your so-called safer kin
Is not the eagle's way;
Pride, in this matter, is not connected with whiteheadedness, nor with the construction
      of beaks:

Eagles have no names.
You are built of coagulated wind, your Father,
      and wasp-chewed sky, and me,
And there is no place in your fierce heart
      but for love, not names.
We need not think in terms of Words or Work, but only Visions and
      their Doing, and fly our each long Day.
I had a friend-egret once
Who told me that if we had the strength not to learn the
      word bullet it would bounce gently off our hides—

Mother, my sister flew 'way south last moon, and has never come
      home again. This afternoon, down south, but beneath no clouds, something sounded
            like what they call "thunder."
I am afraid.

She broke, wearily, and said,
"When you begin to understand their guns as words
"You must take them as
      a sign."


April 19, 1978, Chicago, Illinois; with a quotation from Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, page 322 Copyright © 1978, 2005 by David Newkirk (DavidNewkirk@gmail.com). All rights reserved.
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