The Eagle and the Pelican

by Thomas Davis

The day was shining, water dancing blue
Below the hill still glittering with dew.
Achat, with Hurit by his side, looked down
Toward the pebble beach and lake, his frown
Intense with memories he’d long suppressed,
His heartbeat beating loudly in his chest.
Long years had passed since he had stood above
The place reminding him of timeless love.

His childish body hid behind a birch
Inside a grove upon the hill, his perch
The perfect place to watch his father run
Toward his mother on the beach, the sun
So bright with summer heat it bent the air
And danced above the terror of despair.

That night his father, in a shallow cave,
Had whispered, “When it’s light you’ll have to save
Yourself by hiding. They won’t try to kill
Your Mom and I. They want you dead. Your skill
In hiding where you can’t be found is all
The hope that’s left.” His mother’s night-bird call
Had told them she was near. “Remember, hide!”
He’d said, then left the cave, his son inside.

Five hunters left the trees. His father ran.
His mother stopped and watched. The biggest man
Stopped, pulled his bow string, let an arrow fly.
It struck his father’s back. His mother’s cry
Of anguish shattered silence. The big man’s yell
Of triumph echoed as his father fell.

A boy of ten, he knelt and watched the men
Walk slowly down the beach, knives drawn, a grin
Upon their faces as his mother cried
Until the bloody moment when she died.

As Hurit watched the shadows on his face,
Tears welled into her eyes. “This is the place?”
She asked. He stared into the distant past
And felt the shock and terror that had gasped
Into his spirit, forced him up the hill.
“Not here,” he said. “Up there. I saw them kill
My mother and my father here. I fled
So that I wouldn’t have to see them dead.”

He turned abruptly, climbing up toward
The cliffs above them. As an eagle soared
From off the rising rocks, Achat stopped, glanced
At Hurit, beautiful and strong, entranced
By mysteries she did not understand.

He felt his twisted back and twisted hand
Send shudders through the villagers who looked
At him. His gross deformities had hooked
A terror that their spirits could not shake
No matter how his parents tried to make
Him like another boy, a villager
And not some dark, unholy, malformed cur.

The eagle circled from the cliffs to where
They climbed; its piping cries a solitaire,
Bleak ritual that seemed to integrate
Their movements with dark auguries of fate.

The men upon the beach had seen him climb
Into the open. Scared and grieving, time
A shrinking leather strap about his neck,
He started scaling up the cliffs, a speck
Of darkness in the sky above him, fear
Inside each breath he took, his thoughts not clear.
At last, upon the cliff rim, looking down,
He watched the hunters point, an eagle’s brown,
Swift body suddenly above the cliffs,
A pelican below the eagle, riffs
Of offshore winds a trembling under wings
That folded as a beak’s bright yellow flings
Into the flying pelican as two
Large birds fell tumbling through the sky’s bright blue.

As blood spewed from the pelican, dense mist
Spread from the blood, a shadowy encyst
So thick Achat, the child, had lost his sight.
The summer day had turned into a night
So dark he could not move. He tried to hear
The hunters at the cliff’s rock base, a queer
Infinity inside his head, but all
He’d heard were whispers in the murky pall
That chilled his bones and goaded him to see
Again the murderous, wild sense of glee
That plunged a knife into his mother’s heart
And tore his sense of who he’d been apart.

As Hurit took his hand upon the rim
Above the cliff and bay, he looked so grim
He frightened her. “This is the place,” she said.

He felt the awful sense of blinding dread
That once had paralyzed him as he stood
In mist, the hunters out of sight, childhood
A past forgotten. “When my father came
And led me from this cliff,” he said. “My shame
At having hidden as my parents died
Was more than I could take. I thought the tide
Of life had ended, leaving me a husk
Who’d live his life inside an endless dusk.
I never thought I’d love or feel again.
My living felt as if it was a sin.”

“My father found you in a cedar swamp,”
She said. “He frightened me,” he said. “The clomp
Of boots through muck continued what assailed
Me while I dreamed of dying, as I railed
Against my hand and back and longed for death.”

“My father said he heard your rasping breath
Before he found you on a spit of land,”
She answered. “When you couldn’t even stand
He carried you. He’s always said he knew
That you were someone special, someone who
Would give to all our people special gifts.”

He looked down at the beach below the cliffs.
He saw the arrow in his father’s back
And saw his mother as a spirit, black
Eyes urging him to run, his father’s voice
An insubstantial whisper sapping choice
About continued living from his will,
His father’s running swift, but yet dead still.
A guttural howling haunted hate into his eyes.
He heard again his mother’s anguished cries.

“I watched you save my mother’s life,” she said,
Voice soft. “You took the fever from her head
And put it in the air. I saw you call
Old Weso back from death, the awful pall
Of waxen lifelessness inside his skin,
His face weird, twisted by his death-mask grin.”

He took a deep, long breath. The eagle flew
Above their heads. The sunlight seemed to skew
Into a twisted ball of blinding light.
The eagle disappeared, its soaring flight
An emptiness of bright blue summer sky.

Inside his head the pelican’s sharp cry,
As eagle talons sank into its flesh,
Forged summer light into an augered mesh
That jolted fire into a boy that made
His way through mist behind his father’s shade.

He looked at Hurit and his twisted hand.
He felt the power in the cliffs, this land.
He wondered, as he stared at distant waves,
If he was looking at his parent’s graves.

The day was shining, water glinting blue.
He said to Hurit, “I’m in love with you.”


Filed under Poetry, Thomas Davis

11 responses to “The Eagle and the Pelican

  1. Very good — a lot to put your arms around.

  2. What wealth you have poured into this so vivid tale.

  3. As I know only too well, rhyming couplets are a tough trick to pull off, especially in a long poem, but you’ve succeeded wonderfully here, Tom. I thought it was particularly effective when you split the couplet over two stanzas –
    …Above the cliff and bay, he looked so grim
    He frightened her. “This is the place,” she said.

    He felt the awful sense of blinding dread
    That once had paralyzed him as he stood…

    It’s a device that my great hero John Masefield uses in his narrative poems, and I think this piece has something of his spirit about it. It was ‘Reynard the Fox’ that first opened my mind to the power of poetry, and your rhyming couplets give this poem that same feeling of suspense and momentum, then a pleasing sense of resolution. The driving rhythm, married to the subject matter, also put me in mind of Longfellow – only yours is much more readable! A masterly blend of poetic technique and authentic story-telling; it’s a triumph.

    • You reassure me, Nick. I thought your couplets were so smooth and read so well. I was much less sure about this effort. Thank you.

    • Nick, I just read “Reynard the Fox” for the first time. Masefield certainly did a masterful job of portraying the society of his time with a rollicking sense of comedy, didn’t he? I had not read Reynard before you put me on to it. Thanks.

      • My pleasure. I still get a shiver down my back every time I read the line:

        “The earth was stoped. It was barred with stakes.”

        Whatever one thinks about fox-hunting (a highly emotive and politically charged topic here in the UK) it makes a fine setting for a narrative poem in hands as skilled as Masefield’s (he was Poet Laureate). I’m thinking of trying a long ‘un about a train journey…but don’t hold your breath! N.

  4. Thomas, another amazing story, with rhyme and meter that just seems to “happen” – so naturally. Again, I’ve printed this out to read more slowly – in full enjoyment.

  5. I, too, thought of Longfellow as I read this poem, since I am a descendant of those he immortalized in “Evangeline” and that kind of meter was instilled by frequent recitation of his poem(s) in childhood. You have a gift for writing in traditional meter, I think, and keeping it fresh and alive. What I especially like about this poem are the apt and surprising turns of phrase and images….the sun bending the air as it dances above terror and despair….Hurit watching the shadows on his face…the solitary bleak ritual of the eagle’s cries…the waves as. graves….And this is just a simple poem about an eagle and a pelican, right? Just wonderful! I enjoyed it immensely.

    • You’re a descendant of those immortalized in Evangeline? Neat! I am going to have to go back and read Longfellow again I guess. I haven’t read him for decades. Thanks so much for visiting here, Cynthia. I found your poetry through John Stevens and am glad I did.

  6. Anna Mark

    Riveting story. I love how he remembers everything from on that cliff, a place of such power and yet also precarious, teetering, and in the end a declaration of love, after all the terror of remembering, and reliving it — love. A moving poem.

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