Raven and Peregrine

1.

Across abyss, from cliff
to higher cliff, wing-beats steady,
goes Raven—a flake of night,
sailing edgeways
across the blue sunburn of sky.

In the rocks above, hidden,
a nest waits
as it has waited
since before the ancestors sailed west,
toward mysterious shores.

From behind my left shoulder,
wings whistling in the wind,
Peregrine slices into the sky
out of some other where.
The gods of whom the ancestors spoke
were no myth—Aeolus is here;
a bolt of gray
incomprehensible speed,
focused solely
on Raven.

Raven, heavy in the face
of so much grace, wheels,
spread-winged to meet this fury.
They levitate, rising in the air
without a wingspan
to separate them.

Eternity was never so long
or brief
as this hovering moment
of eye-to-eye silence.

Peregrine then spins to vanish,
bowshot, back across my shoulder
and out of time.
The heart beats again.
Raven resumes heavy flight
toward a rocky nest
that has waited

since before
the ancestors came.

2.

Raven dances out
from the cliff wall

in an awkward crooked
circling; flapping, squawking
like a benighted chicken.

Mischief in the message,
clear enough
in any language.

Peregrine is there in the instant.
How is this possible?
From my vantage point on this cliff
I see miles of countryside,
miles of open birdless sky.

He simply is not there,
and then is there—no intervening moment
between absence
and presence.

But Raven—Bird of the North,
Eye of the Ancient One—Raven sees.
Raven waits

until the instant before the instant,
and then flits to the safety
of the ledge. Derision fills the air.

Peregrine, unmoved, flips in midair,
then skates back along the updraft,
coasting along the cliff’s side
until he is abreast of me.

He turns,
black eyes boring in,
scrying the raven
within.

Then,
a shrug of the wings,
and he is gone.

3.

Along the edges of the upper cliff,
behind me, a sudden flapping:
Raven, rising from the dry grass,
struggling a moment
to break free of earth-grasp,
then catching the wind to sail up
around the brow of the ridge,
and a moment later, back again,
scrambling down
into the branches of a scrub oak:

I puzzle this riddle.

The answer comes quickly,
floating up the breeze from behind me:
Peregrine, motionless, silent,
brushes the very branches
of the meager oak
where Raven shelters.

A flick of wing, and he is gone;
a moment later, back again—
two of them this time—
ripping the fabric of the air
with their speed. They dive
down the face of the cliff,
corkscrewing around each other
as they go, then south, the half-mile
length of cliff and back again,
before I can remember to breathe.

Raven huddles.
This is not a game anymore.
This is death, dancing on silver wings
with claws of steel, dancing
new definitions of  grace, dancing
until the mind reels
and will not see any more.
I would live for nothing, to meet
such a death as this!
And Raven
waits.

Ten minutes, the dance goes on,
or a year—time has collapsed—
and then they are gone.
I sit; I breathe, raggedly.
I rise, walk to the Raven tree,
and sit again. She is huddled still,
almost within reach,
ragged as night
shattered by a meteor.
Awkward on her branch,
she turns her back,
will not face me.

She stretches her right wing
again and again, painfully.
Ravens are everywhere now, calling.
One more stretch of the wing
and then she hops upward,
into air,
to flap slowly

away.

4.

Late afternoon,
on the highest point of cliff,
I sit. Granite, lichen, a scrub cedar—
and a thousand feet below,
the forest floor.

I scoot downward,
closer to the edge, for a better look,
and from this new vantage,
turning to the south,
find myself face-to-face,
eye-to-eye,
with Raven.

No more than an arms’-span and a wingspan
separate us. Raven unfurls her wings,
a flower of night,
but I say softly,
“No, please don’t go.”

She considers, then settles herself again.
We sit, looking at the valley below.
She straightens a feather,
picks at a bit of quartz shining in the rock,
and we bask in the aging
angled sunlight.
Ten minutes pass, twenty;
the sun settles. At last, apologetic,
I rise to go. She bobs her head,
leaps into the breeze,
and is gone before me.

There is comfort in this sitting,
and comfort in this parting;
comfort in the knowledge shared
that somewhere
behind a rift in the sky
Peregrine
waits.

—by Nick Vittum

 

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