Golden eagle with transmitter

golden eagle with transmitter
For background on this photo, see here.

After the unasked-for grooming
by that mob of wingless birds,
their strange soft claws reaching deep
under my feathers, they let me go.
The rock field dropped away
& I thought for a moment it was over.

But I still feel
that fleshy insinuation across my breast.
And something rides me, a small weight,
the same way I ride
this snake of wind.

What kind of clutching
doesn’t still the heart?
Its unshakeable presence makes me know myself
apart from beak & talons
as a thing that throbs,
a thing that chafes & pulses
here   here   here   here,
the mountains circling below.

__________

For the Read Write Poem prompt on dressing up. Links to other responses are gathered here.

23 Comments


  1. Oh. Marvelous.

    My favorite lines are

    What kind of clutching
    doesn’t still the heart?

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  2. of course people are still checking. are people being anti-social these days? i’ve been doing a lot of lurking on a lot of blogs. … too cranky many days to feel up to commenting. :) i love the idea of this piece. the perspective of the bird. the difference between our flesh and their feathers. you took me to a new place — and i love “snake of wind”

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  3. this is how messy my brain is these days. i just realized you were wondering if people were still checking the poem links (since it’s not monday anymore). duh. sorry.

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  4. I like this twist of seeing the world from an eagle’s point of view. The photo is gorgeous, and the back story was very interesting. I didn’t realize how enormous eagles’ claws are, or just how intense the eyes are.

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  5. I love this, how you’ve inhabited the eagle’s point of view, I’ve often wondered along these lines myself, though not poetically. Excellent response to the prompt.

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  6. From ‘and something rides me’ to the end is simply brilliant, every word perfect, so vivid.

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  7. This poem created a scene in my head (aided by the awesome photo, of course) that I will return to again and again. I love the use of the bird’s perspective.

    “But I still feel
    that fleshy insinuation across my breast.
    And something rides me, a small weight,
    the same way I ride
    this snake of wind.”

    These lines chill me. Even though I know research is important, the things we do to animals make my heart hurt (even more than the animals, I suspect, sometimes). I could never be a vet.

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  8. I just read the background info. So interesting. I wonder if there are any groups here in upstate NY that do this kind of thing? After reading it, the whole thing begs a poem, but I’m not even sure where to begin. Birds are so intriguing…

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  9. Excellent, Dave. “Mob of wingless birds” made me laugh, and the last four lines clutch at my heart.

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  10. Wonderful post and poem… I love the idea of the transmitter as clothing, not welcome. Your poetry gives us such a different perspective on nature, always insightful.

    Thanks also for your comments on Reed Noss, inspiring today’s post on Romantic Naturalist. Seems often when we scratch a biologist we find a kid in the woods underneath…

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  11. That photograph is stunning. Still a bird that must fly with the burden of our human curiosity affixed to its breast breaks my heart.

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  12. Thanks for all the kind comments. I guess I should revisit my older photos more often — not only did it spark a poem, but I think I managed to make lemonade from a lemon as far as the photo at the top of this post is concerned. Hooray for Photoshop!

    You’ll have to take my word for it, but I can assure you that the scientists involved in this project are deeply sensitive people who treat their research subjects with gentleness and respect. Todd Katzner is even a budding nature writer, I believe — and lord knows we need more scientists who are also naturalists, as Reed Noss says in the post Sally mentions. The methods are intrusive, but the results of the research may well help save the eastern golden eagle from extinction — that’s how severe the threat from industrial wind “farms” on all their major migration corridors could be. With the National Aviary and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History behind it, and funding from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the findings from this study will be very difficult for policy-makers to ignore. The tough part will be getting the eastern golden eagle recognized as a subspecies and protected by the Endangered Species Act.

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  13. My husband caught a shark last summer that had been banded by some group up in Canada. At the time, I wondered if having that band on made swimming for the shark different and if he was relieved when it was removed and he was thrown back in. But unlike you, I didn’t write a poem about it. Another missed opportunity!

    I felt like I was that eagle; your words are so well-chosen!

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  14. Thanks. I think those “missed opportunities” go into a sort of subconscious bank, though: the poems we don’t write are a kind of dark matter keeping our poetic universe in balance. God forbid I ever learn how to exploit every creative opportunity that came my way. I’m sure that shark will find a way of surfacing in your work sooner or later, if you give it time.

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  15. What a poem!
    “A grasp that does not still the heart”
    This one stuck in my mind. Taking it metaphorically most human things that grasp too tightly do still the heart.. or at least the love. Taking it literally.. the hawk is only familiar with grasps that kill instantly . He’s not yet aware of slow death by monitor. This whole wonderful poem could be taken another way if written by a person with a heart monitor. That feeling that something there is not ‘you’. The annoying beat beat beat..in heart case lifesaving..in the Eagle’s case, life snooping. Strange that in a country which claims to value our privacy so much we do this to wild things. But what do I know. The thing may self destruct before the eagle gets totally neurotic, and might provide us with valuable eagle info. It’s certainly large enough to be a critter cam.

    O.k. I tend to write too much in comments Perhaps I ride the snake of long winded. (grin)

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  16. Joan – That last line gets you my favorite commenter of the week ward! Hee.

    I didn’t mean to imply that the eagle can feel or hear anything from the electronic workings of the transmitter — I don’t think she can — but simply that she is made conscious of her own pulse and her physical continuity in a new way. I guess you got all that. It’s always tricky to know how much to trust one’s audience to figure out; I’m really pleased that you and the other commenters got what I was trying to do here. Not that it’s a difficult poem, but it is one where every word packs a lot of freight.

    Oh, and i like the heart monitor analogy.

    Dick – Very glad you think so. Cheers.

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  17. I have always wondered what radio-collared birds felt. Thank you for exploring it, so beautifully.

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  18. I like the idea of the transmitter as clothing for the bird. An interesting twist of thinking.

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  19. You would not believe how this poem has touched me.
    I am totally against placing transmitters on free flying birds and raptors.
    And to hear it spoken from the eagles point of view, was heart breaking.
    May I reprint it on our page on FB…our page is to Boycott putting transmitters on Eagles & Raptors.

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    1. Jean, click on the Creative Commons license in the sidebar: you’re welcome to use my poem however you want as long as I’m given credit and you don’t include it in a conventionally copyrighted work.

      Reply

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