Feathers and Bone

I look up at the Cliffs
But we’re swept on by downriver
— Gary Snyder, “Canyon Wren”

I’d look up too, as if in prayer for the return
to Nature of her gifts. But I’m swept downtime—
the encyclopaedic cliffs are still below.

First the fox, gray fox, skittish as he should be,
given the hubbub of his human company.
Then a gray-bellied osprey in a dead cottonwood.

I slow to watch the bird flap glare-blackened wings,
fall out of her innocence and become the necessary predator
as she levels with the stream of narrow canyon air,

shoots the airflow above the last free river
in this desert state, plucks a small mouth bass
to nourish her species and heads up-canyon.

Not a sound.

At the river bank I look back up at the cliffs.
Above me in a cleft of canyon wall a hawk’s nest,
soaring station and refuge for a common red-tail.

I can just see the bullet scars around the narrow slot,
and on the ground below part of a weathered wing.
A small bone here and there on the red-rock beach.

I could try to bless this sad return to Nature of her gifts.
I could sprinkle a palmful of river water on the few
brown feathers, the air-light fan of white wing bone.

But the water of this last free river in a desert state
has been rendered undrinkable, rendered
by our return to Nature of her poisoned, gutshot gifts.

So I turn my back, following our ghosts to nowhere.
I can only offer such blessing as I can, keeping your company,
by the promise of this single human absence.

Richard Fenton Sederstrom was raised and lives in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and the North Woods of Minnesota. Sederstrom is the author of seven books of poetry, his newest book, Icarus Rising, Misadventures in Ascension, published by Jackpine Writers' Bloc, was released last winter. Read other articles by Richard Fenton.