- Hawk Hoof Tea
My mother lost an eye to a butcher knifewhen she was only five or six.I've told this story before, but as I age, the story becomesa lesson, how, if a family had not been poorand black, a child might have been ableto see on both sides of her face.As a daughter,I feel my mother's phantom grief,but she tells her story very matter of fact, and she endsthe tale with pride. She was the best studentwhen she re-entered school after two absent years.The best student and only one eye.You have to hear that story first before you can realize the day the measles creptinto a house of children, that crowded space.The presence of Sickness, antagonist,and again, the threat of absence.Mama could have lost her remaining sightbecause she lived in isolated Georgia woodsand no doctor or money and her skin was not whiteand her mother and father were hapless.Then,there arrived Great-Grandpa Henry,the son of a full Cherokee [End Page 193] woman whose own story got lost,but what we do know is Henrywalked in the door and cured my Mamaand her brothers and sisters.This story is a spiritual awakening in me,sure enough.Who wouldn't want to claim a great medicinewoman and her son as blood, make him a kingbeyond a small act?—That's what writers do, but did Henry seem to Mama some sort of copperroyalty, especially deep and profound?No, she says. Henry was a cranky old man,long-lived, over a hundred years,and he frowned whatever the season.And how about his saving her and the others,his causing a miracle in that place? Well,Henry just did what he had to doout of love or impatience with dying.He boiled down a hawk hoof into a tea,but who knew if that was really the cure,or even what a hawk hoof might be?A bird's talon, a flower, a root?Whatever it was, he made her drink a teacup full—it tasted nasty, too.
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s latest book is Outlandish Blues (Wesleyan, 2003). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Kenyon Review, and Prairie Schooner. A native Southerner, she now lives on the prairie, where she is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma.