Dec. 4, 2004

The Mind is a Hawk

by Walter McDonald

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Poem: "The Mind is a Hawk," by Walter McDonald, from Night Landing © Harper and Row. Reprinted with permission.

The Mind is a Hawk

The mind is like a hawk, trying to survive
on hardscrabble. Hunting, you wheel
sometimes for hours on thermals

rising from sand so dry
no trees
grow native. Some days, you circle
only bones and snakeskin, the same old

cactus and mesquite. The secret
is not to give up on shadows, but glide
until nothing expects it, staring

to make a desert give up dead-still
ideas like rabbits with round eyes
and rapidly beating hearts.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1783, General George Washington received 44 officers of the victorious Continental Army for a final farewell. The event was held in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern, on the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets, in lower Manhattan. When it was all over, Washington and his second-in-command were in tears; they embraced, and then all his men followed him down to the ferry landing and watched him leave on a barge for Mt. Vernon.

It's the birthday of Sioux Indian Chief Ta-sunko-witko, known as Crazy Horse, born near what is now Rapid City, South Dakota (1842). Crazy Horse was a great war chief who sought to stave off the advancement of the white man into the homelands of his people. He waged many battles with white troops and South Dakota Gold Rush gold diggers who disregarded treaties, encroached on Sioux reservation land and trampled Sioux rights. Crazy Horse was fearless in battle, and successfully defeated cavalry led by such men as George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn (1876). Crazy Horse said:

"We had buffalo for food, and their hides for clothing and for our teepees. We preferred hunting to a life of idleness on the reservation where we were driven against our will...We preferred our own way of living. We were no expense to the government. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone."

It was on this day in 1872 that the U.S. Brigantine Mary Celeste was found drifting in the Atlantic Ocean between the Azores and Portugal. The ship was deserted—the captain's table was set with an uneaten meal, and the lifeboat was missing. But there was only slight damage to the ship's rigging, and it's cargo of 1,700 barrels of alcohol was intact. There are numerous, conflicting theories as to what may have happened, but the mystery has never been solved. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writing under a pseudonym, wrote a fictionalized account of the ship called "Marie Celeste."

It's the birthday of poet Rainer Maria Rilke born in Prague (1875). As a very young man he met and fell madly in love with Lou Andreas-Salomé, the wife of a German university professor; she became a prime influence on his life and writing, though their affair was eventually called off. He followed her to St. Petersburg, Berlin, and other cities, where she helped him write, more as a mother-figure than a lover. Eventually he left her and traveled widely around the Continent by himself, finally settling in Paris. His great poems come from his 12 Paris years, including The Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), and Duino Elegies (1923). Rilke wrote:

"It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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