Tell yourself to stop now. Do not go on. Or preface how, in some cases, if you leave an image out of context, and therefore incomplete, it becomes a pretty lie of praise for an unassailed innocence: air rinsing across naked bodies of lovers who lay half-awake, half-listening. But soon engines would intrude on the amnesty of sleep, and mercury-lit edges of cities metastasize in the dark, and as for beauty-what about it?- besieged by indifference or nostalgia, beauty was already ceasing to be anything but a privileged irony you might witness at four a.m.,
as whip-poor-wills quit their mournful whooping, and someone small- chit, vireo or phoebe-whistled to its nearby mate, broke the silence, and thorny fencerows grew loud with multitudes of orioles and thrushes, with tanagers, towhees, mockingbirds and jays, more than you ever learned the names of, a vast wave of pleasure, not Babel after the confusion of human tongues, but boundless accord passing from one thicket to the next, north and south, teeming equator to teeming tundra, jubilation at the common miracle of an oncoming day.
Across pinetops, rising past her white, shit-stained eyrie, the falcon led them up rock face away from her red-stippled eggs, permitted them to peck at her nape, scapulars, and tail, dodged, feinted as though wind betrayed her, had opened a hole in which she could not sustain flight-and thus she easily lured her pursuers higher because she knew them perverse, knew they would soon forget why they shadowed her slow spiral, and she just agile enough, in that marauding murder of crows, to elude them, patient to draw out the subtler argument of deeper wind on the mountain ridge.
Kissed my fist then to falcon-cry, and she, hearing at last a man had abandoned his leaden life, suddenly lifted inside the thermal, pivoted on the axis of mottled wings, stood erect and buoyant in updraft, clenched and unclenched her ebony claws, slashing air with the predator’s candor, and answered, screeching back at me on the tormented earth, where my body remained. And those intrepid fools, caught in the open between us, one by one, scuttled out of the sky, laughing nervously as boys who just committed an illicit prank, hurtled their shimmering bodies earthward again to carrion-full ditches that line the human road.
David Axelrod is the author of one collection of poems, Jerusalem of Grass (Ahsahta), and a limited-edition chapbook of a long poem, The Kingdom at Hand (Ice River). His essays and poems appeared recently or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Plieades, Southern Poetry Review, and others, and three recent anthologies, Getting By: Stories of Working Lives, The Ahsahta Anthology: Poetry of the American West, and Wildsong, published last year by the University of Georgia Press. David is a co-editor of the literary tabloid, Calapooya, a former recipient of the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize and of a fellowship from Literary Arts of Oregon to complete a new collection of poems, The Snow on Mount Si.