Creatio ex Nihilo: Learning from Hawks on a Ledge

1

Solid foundations are slowly built,

stone on stone, day after day, fitting without shift or seam

to bear the weight of the future. Without such care it rocks,

crumbles, cascading in cacophony and clouds

of dust and debris; detritus destined for nothing but the tomb of dreams

of what might have been. And so she sits,

day after day, and so we watch, day after

day fitting ourselves to natures time, finding

ourselves and places in preparation for the day

after the day.

 

2

A month, no, more we watch her, wait, aware

of only waiting, and one another, as she sits,

as she broods, is fed, occasionally flies —

the waiting, brooding, maintained by mate until she returns

as constant as nature, as fitting as stones

in a careful foundation; obdurate granite in feathers

on a bed of twigs and grass.

 

3

Too long, this work; this foundation has no future

the student architects of nature tell us. It is over

before it has begun, there will be no glory raised from this cairn. She has

labored, waited, brooded in vain on barren eggs. The inconstant leave,

not fitted with the faith that such work must have a meaning,

that there is at heart purpose. Or is it us,

in spite of all that we know of buildings and birth,

who believe beyond calendars

that this patience must be rewarded?

 

Cogitatum I

She is a bird, no more, no less;

this her nest, her eggs, just three,

in unnatural surroundings yet  well within

the course of nature. Why take this time, expense, harness

the fruit of human genius, to watch what nature has seen

a million times, successful and not? Our days, and days after days

fill with a concern she never knows; she only sits,

as birds have always sat, and waits,

as they have always waited. The rest is us. There is no meaning

without our presence; she does not care.  She does not count the days

nor does she know it is (we have decided) all futile.  Our concern for her future

is not hers; she merely sits, and waits for what will be. We worry ourselves

about what will not.
 
 

4

One day in May, or was it one night, without our eyes

without our presence, self-validating without our leave

the impossible pips its way to possibility; the future

arrives in fuzzy potential, purest white, and obsidian eyes.

Nature exults, and though it is just one of three

no greater care could be exhausted, no more self-giving service

could be imagined than what we witness. We are awed

by our ignorance, and rejoice in our failure. They merely

hunt for the food to rip it to pieces suitable to feed the future

going about their days, one after another,

building a foundation for future glory.
 
5

With this another story has begun, rather begun to take shape

on the foundation laid alongside; we are the stones, self-choosing,

fitting together, a community of watchers and learners and hopeful

for the beginnings we now celebrate. Communities are fragile things,

they need their feeding and their care, and if not built by another require

nonetheless that the stones fit, each in its place, discarding those which

disrupt the pattern, challenge the cohesion, upset the borning order.

The story has two lines, not parallel for they intersect yet not meeting either;

nature and human nature, observer and observers, who are in turn self-observing.

Community is born on the foundation of hope realized, expectation its framework.
 
6

The days pass, after one another, and yet one more;

did we ever watch the weather with such an eye, every storm a threat

to hope, and every dawn a new wonder? Are those really wings,

and that a beak? Will she be that big (she’ll never survive the harshness

of the city, so weak, tiny, dependent!) what good parents they are

and models for ourselves. What growth, is that a spot of color?

 

Cogitatum II

It is human to name names and so they are Violet, mother,

Bobby father-mate and now Pip. And we have become

Saidhbhin, pondove, Wiz and john nyc3, Hawk Talk and hawkheady,

jblum, Irene and Catskills, ncmd, mrmet and lilac, paulae, more …

some stones have been rejected,

socks cast aside without meaning or value, others did not choose to fit;

but some remain,  are named or name themselves, all the same in the end.

Two stories, Pip’s and ours, life as it is ordained

and life as we create it for ourselves. Which is more natural? Which more real?

Hawk Lovers Anonymous, yet all named, fans of Pip, rejoicing in Pip

and in the family of fans as much. We barely rejoice alone.

The foundations have been laid, the structures grow,

separate but intertwined. Would we have existed without Violet? Are we her offspring

too? Or are we our own creation? Or something else, still to be named —

for it is all in the naming. Everything

is language.

 
7

Look! A tail feather! And she’s turning brown, who would have guessed

so fast, so fast … too cute, too precious, too much of a handful in the nest

and grasping at rats and clutching pigeons … covering her food,

mantling her wings, away, AWAY! I am the future and this

food ,this present, is MINE! I need to eat, give me room, give me more

when, when will these wings

jump jump, hop, grasp and tear and pull

and when

the edge

is so

enticing….

Hatchling dreams in adolescence are riots of blood-sating and soaring

free of sticks and stolid rock, no ledge, just edge

adventure life

out there

beyond this tame park, for all that it is wild enough

to have borne me and fed me,

I am hawk

will be

hawk …

Feed me, more, now,

my right …

jump

hop,  hop and…

sleep. Tomorrow and the day after and the day

after  each new, stronger, but now, now

just

sleep …

 
8

Comfort me under the shadow of your wings, shield me

from all danger and woe til hawk-grown, and in return

I will leave, and in return, will not return. I will be hawk

and lone will mate when and where I chose

not here, never here. You will compete with your grandchildren

and our families will be strangers.

 

9

Faster, life races within me; did you, when I was young,

preen me and feed me, beak to beak, hard kisses

but softly done, sweet meat and tender? You, now silent

and watchful, distant already … you know I will leave

and you ready me. How do you ready yourself? Will I do the same,

when my turn comes, when the day after the day after I sit,

waiting, to rear and say goodbye? Will I know you then?

 
Cogitatum III

As if a hawk could understand or consider

being a hawk; it might as well have feelings for mice andother

soft and tasty things. Yet our minds have no such problem imagining

and feed our fantasies with our own frailties and fears, finding meaning

where none exists. We recognize in one another the truth of that.

Recognizing, we make each other real. Your fears are mine, dear, yet in the end

we are all left alone, remembering a community built upon a ledge

in a quiet building

on the edge of a park.

 

10

Violet and Bobby, marvelous Pip, have given us nothing

we did not possess. The Gray Lady served them up for our delectation

deciding we deserved them, unknowing what they would  become,

what we would do, what we would become. Indeed, who  knew

this New York moment would become thousands of hours

enough time and energy and native wit expended

to repair the budget

or send a man

to clean the windows. They need it now,

and the walls; to our eyes only for to the hawks

(not ours, never ours, but in themselves whole)

it is just a place, to be left, returned to again for more of the same

for the wait, another year, day after day. It nears the end of its season

having served its purpose and given us ours.

 

11

Unlike the allotted time of the end of creation (we missed that,

somehow, seeing the world created anew

in front of our eyes) the allotted end

draws nearer, day after day, numbered in so many weeks

or days from the beginning, when Pip

becomes full-fledged, as she must, and leaves, as she must, and we

remain … where? Eliot (T.S.) wrote that in our beginning

is our ending. Do we begin again, or merely spend our days

after days and months, waiting for beginning again? Communities are

fragile things, no matter their base. Rents and rifts,

under-currents, cross-currents and all manner of things

bereft them of purpose and, with loss of purpose, meaning.

Can any foundation be so artfully laid as to shore up hope

when hope fulfills its promise and flies, untrammeled, never to return?

 

12

There is very little choice for hawks. Breed, brood, fledge and leave, eat when possible

and sleep when full, one year to the next. They do not worry about their ending,

it comes soon enough. They do not question their beginning; it simply is,

they simply are. Their beginning is their ending and neither

is wondered at. That is not to say that they are not individual, distinct,

have characteristics that would pass for personality,

not merely creatures of instinct and gene. But the hawk

is not reflective, the creature does not ask or wonder

of beginnings and endings. Hawks travel far,

but  they do not journey.
 
 
Cogitatum IV

Does our journey end, then, together with Pip, leaping off a ledge into

hope and future in parts and places unknown? How human to ask

and how human to wonder for we journey, alone

of all species no matter how far they travel.  Most sad

and true, alone too often amongst our own;

our journeys are solitary things.

How could they be else, for language is always one’s own

and one’s hearing only echoes of one’s self.  We have heard ourselves

in hawks, our hopes in their eyes, our love in their constancy,

our wish for freedom in their wings. Small wonder that we share

this journey so deeply with others

who hear themselves in hawks

and find themselves awake

above a small park

waiting for dawn, again, day after day. Perhaps we learn,

in silent watching, to hear each other;

perhaps,

we don’t.

Let the journey continue,

day after day; time, patience and grace

and a new dawn, always.

 

george campbell (eliotts)

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25 thoughts on “Creatio ex Nihilo: Learning from Hawks on a Ledge

  1. Hope Wytte

    Dear George Campbell (“Eliotts”)

    I am deeply moved by your poem. It is sustained by intelligence, love, craft, and delight, stanza after stanza. Only when you make a sober turn towards the ending does it lose its position in that radiant raking light where the least mote is magic. But I understand why you had to do that: the momentum of the poem demanded a down- swerve. You came back, skimming the air, landing lightly.

  2. pondove

    It’s so hard to put into words how I perceive this experience. I hope to one day put in on paper but know it won’t be nearly as well said as yours is. I try to understand how and why this has had such an impact on me, on us. It has made me feel as one with her, with all life forms. I loved the line “our wish for freedom in their wings”. Just a beautiful poem which brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, Eliotts.

    1. iolanthe

      June 18, 2011 pondove, I read the chatroom dialogue tonight. You mention wanting to write about it, perhaps an essay. People were clamoring for you to write a book but you drew away from that idea. A diary gives one relived experience. Reading John Blakeman’s factual reports is another. He speaks so well, simply, knowledgeably. Eliotts was able to reform and transform the experience in his poem. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who has been following the cam from the beginning, watching Violet and Bobby sitting on the nest, seeing the pipping, and following Pip all along would not sense that Eliotts has captured the essence of this whole experience. His words ring true. They are strongly and calmly felt. They are necessary.

      Writing a letter to someone close to you keeps things fresh, too.

      The intensity of the Pip watch has been remarkable but Pip’s life is changing and the experience is changing. It hurts.

      Remembering it will always make you catch your breath whether you write it down or not. And remembering that you have been one of the main actors in this play within a play. We others watch you. Your happiness has been ours. Your discomfiture. Your pain.

      No one can take any of this away. But it has already been transformed. Everything has gone into creating a memory, an irresistible memory,which is yours alone.

      All my best wishes, pondove.

      1. starlight

        hi Iolanthe you speak great sense , Life is forever changing, Life is full of experince we look to the positive thanks for your words of poem from starlight from chatroom

  3. deedee

    what a beautiful poem….you put so many of my feelings into words. this experience has touched me deeply and it was so unexpected. thank you Elliots – and NYU!

  4. peggyabq

    This poem is so beautiful that It made me cry. You are very very talented. Please keep on writing, Thank you Elliots for your most precious gift.

  5. hawkwatch2011

    Aha – Elliots – T.S. Elliot – I get it! That was lovely and insightful. Thank you for breathing this fresh and intelligent perspective and sharing it with us. ~Hawkwatch2011.

  6. haarlemmer

    Elliots, I only now had a chance to read this. What a wonderful, wise poem! We have been given the opportunity, the gift, really, to observe this hawk family. You have put into words what many of us first time chat room members and bird watchers have been thinking and wondering. Thank you!

  7. mimjo

    An epic poem Elliots – so moving, you captured perfectly how much to be learned from quietly watching this drama play out. Your poem is the place to go for respite when our hawks move on.

  8. ghope

    Thank you, elliots(George Campbell) for writing so beautifully about the experience we have shared these past 6-7 weeks. After all the mad chatter, I really needed to read words that are so precise and focused, and filled with feelings. Most gratefully….

  9. Pingback: Hawk Cam | When Pip Leaves the Nest - NYTimes.com

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    1. PaulaPaula

      Carola, if you are on a Mac, you can right-click Print, then save as PDF. Alternatively, I’ve done that and can send you the poem if you like.

      It’s probably not a good idea to post your email address here. Would you like me to remove it?

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