With Our Hands

In honor of National Poetry Month, this month Paper Fort is featuring poems from books by the 2008 finalists for the Stafford/Hall Award in poetry.

With Our Hands is from Another Sunset We Survive by Kate Gray.

Kate had this to say about writing it:

The poem began with finding a fallen hawk. My now partner, then girlfriend came to get me to show me this gorgeous bird that had probably hit a window and died. The look of pain in her eyes was something that stuck with me, and the whole scene was too much for me to keep in my body. I had to write the whole thing down to be able to endure it.

The hardest part was not making the poem sappy. When I figured out that I could include a memory of my aunt telling me about how to be kind in killing, I knew that I could tip the scale toward real rather than really sentimental. Another challenge was the stanza breaks and finding words or images to bridge those white spaces.

With Our Hands

Near the houses where we lived separately
and loved, the hawk spotted prey and plunged
wing-tucked, blue-brown streaks in its crown,
red eyes blurred before it slammed into glass.

Now slumped in grass, its head dangling, it lay
with breast puffed, tail bright with brown bands.
When you led me to the dead hawk, your eyes
shone like moons waning, the light

a type of dying. And we could not speak.
We hovered the way my aunt and I bent
years ago above a grouse she shot. “Look,”
she said above the quivering bird, “you must

break its neck with your hands. It’s cruel
to let birds suffer.” Above the broken hawk
we wished our hands could rend our hearts
still rapt in love, or else, for flight restored.

—Kate Gray, from Another Sunset We Survive (Cedar House Books)

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