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  • Hawks and Other Flying Things
  • Suzanne Roberts (bio)

In Memory of Ilyse Kusnetz

Steller’s Jay

The message from your husband reads, This morning. I can’t write it. There are no words. And also this: I am fucking broken inside.

I walk out onto the deck to look for flying things. A jay shrieks from a lodgepole pine. Fucking bird, I think. Stupid, noisy Steller’s Jay.

I leash the dog and run the trail toward the creek. A hawk arcs over our heads. The red tail catches the sun as the bird ladders into the sky.

Later, I mention the hawk to my friend, and she brings me a book about birds. The book sits on top of a pile of other books. I want to continue believing in nothing. [End Page 1]


The next morning, I turn on my phone, and there is a poem from you. That’s nice, I think. I read it, then try to close the page, but it won’t close. I keep trying and wonder if phones can get viruses, if that’s why my phone is frozen. I turn it off and back on. The poem is still there. I read it again. Nothing.

I say to you, “Hello, Ilyse.” I hit the boxed x and the window closes.

Your husband sends me a manuscript of your new work, the poems you wrote when you were dying. In it, you warn, “I will be your sweet poltergeist.” I laugh, because I am glad and because I believe we must be laughing together.

A raven lands on the branch of a Jeffrey pine. Its feathers and beak inky as a night without stars. I try to take a photograph, but the dog barks it away.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Very soon, it is my birthday, and I go out onto the deck to straighten up the patio furniture for a party. A hawk circles above, soaring with its wings at a slight dihedral. It’s October, I tell myself, autumn: the season of the hawk.

I finally read the book my friend brought me on hawks. Buteo jamaicensis. The red-tailed hawk’s adaptations include color vision, sharp talons, hollow bones. I remember you telling me the cancer was eating you from the inside out, hollowing your bones.

You say the cancer adapted, mutated a cloak of invisibility, a clever bastard. I learn that hawks are as fierce as they are beautiful and that they have scales on their legs so they can rip the heads from venomous snakes without danger. I wonder about that, what it would look like. [End Page 2]

That afternoon, I leash the dog and take off running down the trail. I run a few miles and then turn back toward home, and a red-tailed hawk flies above my head, carrying something like a whip.

Still alive, it flings itself against gravity.

I stop and the dog sniffs at the trail, and I fear I’m seeing imaginary things. But I’m not. It is a hawk and a snake, and the world behind the world announces itself to me just like that. I stand on the trail, between the manzanita and the pine, and I weep.

I know what it seems like—it seems that way to me, too.

But I would not tell this story if it were not true

Northern Gannet

I arrange for your friends, all poets, to travel to Florida to see you. We walk the beach, come across a dead northern gannet: a seabird that can dive more than a hundred feet, plunging into the ocean. It had likely flown off course. At least that’s what the biologist said. It was perfect, the neck curved like an elegant question. The other poets take photographs. Snow white on the sand.

We come to your home in Orlando. Your hair is now cut short and an orangey color, patchy with the scalp showing through. You say the pain stems from your knees. You show us the radiation mask.

“No one saw this coming,” you say.

“I can’t be an invalid,” you say.

I can see the dying flame in...


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pp. 1-10
Launched on MUSE
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