Letter Ten: conversation with hawk at riverside

Linden leaf
Linden leaf, digital photograph, 2013
Linden leaf, digital photograph, 2013

I’m sitting on the bench now, dear Hawk. It is one of many under the linden trees facing the East River. It is morning and brightness laughs, sparkling and white on the gray rippled river. Brooklyn is across the river—a steeple, a water tank, brick warehouses, an old neighborhood changing very quickly. Farther up the river, modern residential towers stare across the water at Manhattan.

I see a reddish leaf on the brick. Is this you, dear Hawk? Have you arrived in disguise so the pigeons won’t know you? Hop up, dear Hawk. Yes, hop up, hop up. There is room on the bench for you. Don’t let the noise of the city frighten you, dear Hawk. Yes, the cars always whine and the sirens scream and horns pound their impatience into our ears. Look, Hawk, how many spaces there are. A person, then a space, a person, then a space. Has loneliness taken the space?

Ok, ok, Hawk, I will dismiss loneliness—goodbye, loneliness, get out out here, I’m tired of your companionship. No, there is nothing to argue about. No, I won’t miss you. No, I won’t be sorry.

Loneliness is leaving, Hawk, pretending to be so sad. Loneliness has climbed onto the railing, Hawk, next to a silent gray gull. Loneliness jumps and is drifting over the water toward an approaching barge stacked high with colorful storage containers. A rope ladder unravels down to the water’s edge. Loneliness grabs hold and climbs onto the gray, steel deck. Loneliness waves to me. I wave back. The horn whistles, and black smoke trails from the stack and disappears.

Ok, Hawk, is there room for you now? Yes, you answer. Ok, sit down.

Hawk, you have arrived. It’s so good to see you. The leaves on the limbs provide a nice shade. Hear them speak—this breezy day rustles them while their friends dance across the pavement.

Ok, Hawk, I will speak first. Thank you, dear Hawk, thank you, for coming. It’s an honor to share this refuge with you. We are mixed within the city din. Ting, ting, a slight lady walks past carrying a large plastic bag filled with empty cans.
She glances at us kindly.

I remember first seeing you, Hawk. You were not in the air or perched on a tree, but on the ground casting a stick into the air with a talon. It was such fun to watch. When it fell to the ground, you stomped on it. It was an amazing sight, and afterward on my walks I watched for you every day.

I saw you many times, as many hawks, in many hues of brown, red, and tan, soaring high in thermal winds, or racing under the canopy of trees, often perched on a limb of a sycamore tree, looking out over the wide expanse of fields in the park.

I am grateful to you, Hawk; you are a beloved appearance in my mind. When you are alone, I am alone. When you pace the ground, your wings tucked behind you, you appear as a man, perhaps in thought with hands chained behind your back—but you change in an instant, springing upward, opening and thrusting your wings downward, and you disappear into the sky. Your freedom is instinctual effort.

One more story, Hawk. I saw you across the road on a distant limb. It was the first time I had seen you with another.
And I thought: This is wonderful. I pointed my camera and you sprang upward one, two, three times flapping and glided silently toward me. Your wings were huge, and on each wing five forefeathers reached as you approached swiftly. At the last moment, you veered upward. I promise, dear Hawk, I felt the draft tumble over my head. You had never been so close to me.

Are you speaking now, Hawk?

Strong, sharp talons clinch the wooden bench slats. The beauty of your layered feathers is astounding. You rotate your majestic head and we stare into each other’s eyes, and your hooked beak and my nose almost touch. We blink our eyes in slow motion. How can this be? You are here. We turn our heads further around. We are in a canyon now. I’m listening carefully. There is a hush of breath, and your beak and jaw separate.

Hawk: I want you to know—yes, you too are a dear friend—that I have heard every word you have spoken to me…

Hawk: Yes, every one. And every time you have seen me, I have seen you. When you walk alone on the path, under the trees you love, the leaves chattering with the wind, I see you. My eyes are sharp and often I’m camouflaged by the trees. I see the slightest movement. And you are easy to spot. The top of your head shines in light. Ha, Ha, that is a joke.

Man on bench: Yes, thank you. You are funny.

Hawk: Do not feel alone. Many have attachments to hawks.

Man on bench: Yes. But I have never thought I was you, Hawk. But perhaps I am.

Hawk: What do think, now, if I may ask?

Man on bench: You are all the hawks I have seen, a feathered creature, so unlike a human. All the love of my life is with me now, gathered as moments, layered sparkling as the river in front of us—people, animals, sights, sounds, and momentary thoughts. They are with me now on this bench, and I can join you in flight leaving the bench empty under the linden tree shade.

Hawk:Goodbye.

Man on bench: Goodbye, dear Hawk.

A draft of wind sweeps Hawk away. The pigeons step toward me and the red leaf tumbles away. I close my eyes.