by Paul Hooker
The cry lifted my attention
From pavement to rooftop.
Beginning in self assertion,
Trailing into doubt,
A question, plaintive, unsure.
A fledgling hawk perched on the cornice,
Toeing the terminus between
Solid structure and empty air.
Reddish breast thrust forward—
Raptoral dignity, evolution’s masterpiece, as yet
Unsupported by confident experience.
How long have we watched
From classroom and library window
The mating pair of red-shoulders
Rearing their replacements to stand
Their parents’ post on branch and wing?
How long observed
The slow discipleship of hunt and flight?
Lessons done, the fledgling
Stands on the border between learning and living.
Two mockingbirds, grey-coated, nettlesome,
Trill and squawk their challenge:
What right have you to be here?
No match for beak and talon,
Nonetheless they swoop and dive,
Ruffling russet feathers in their attack.
Go back, go back. You are not ready.
Perhaps persuaded, or insecure,
The fledgling neither retreats nor advances.
From high atop the chapel steeple
Comes the maternal command.
She does not soar to rescue,
Nor circle in hovering defense,
But only summons up lessons learned,
Promises made. You are ready.
You will be hungry, you will be lonely,
But you are neither empty nor alone.
Go, fly, and remember who you are.
The fledgling cocks his head,
Attentive to this last lecture.
Then, deciding at length to rely
On instinct or instruction,
Unfurls majestic wings, dark-shrouded—
As though a black gown
Billowed by a freshening breeze—
And flies, soaring
Where no mocking bird has will or wing to reach.
The classroom is empty now.
The lessons are in the wind.