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Quietly Soaring By Shelley Armitage

Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis from Washington, DC, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommo

Quietly Soaring

By Shelley Armitage

Hello, this is Shelley Armitage for Radio Readers Book Club --

We used to talk to animals, didn’t we? No, I don’t mean the family dog and cat. I mean bears, cougars, ravens, eagles. And they talked to us. But something happened when we began to see them as fair sport, trophies, fit for feed yards or timeable milking machines. John Berger in his essay “Why Look at Animals” writes: “Each year more animals depart/ Only pets and carcasses remain . . . Now that they have gone/ it is their endurance we miss./ Unlike the tree/the river or the cloud/the animals had eyes/ and in their glance/ was permanence.” In the following poem I try to capture their perspective, their vision of us.


My call might scare
the bejesus out of you
so I’ll quietly soar here above
passing for a buzzard--
a humiliation--except for
how the silence tugs
at my tail.

Your Border Patrol
Your Google Earth
Your National Geographic photographers
objectify me.

But I see you.
A mile away
I distinguish my prey,
prairie dog, black tailed jack rabbit,
occasional pronghorn.
Golden Eagles are known for
our sharp eyesight, our size.
Native people dance
with me.

I eye that seed cap of yours
and your hiking partner’s red bandana,
human detritus prized among the prickly barbed wire,
mesquite sticks, antlers, ripe yucca, all woven--
how I make my nest.

You could read a long ancestral ecology
from my nest, reworked sometimes for 500 years,
aerial dendrochronology
the rings up to five feet in diameter,
the nest over six feet tall,
locked into ledges, a cliff face,
nestled sky.

You marvel.
You sigh.
You measure.
You photograph.

From these heights
I see you as part of the horizontal
green of the springs’ seep,
the rattlesnake’s brown coil,
the llano’s endless yellow.

You wonder at the origins of the pictographs
Yes, you say that blue one on the overhang
 is an angel.
But it is a shaman and the spirits are unhappy
with your ancestors who have camped here,
scratching their names.

I can see where the Comancheros followed the arroyos
where the basalt cliffs break into plains
the wandering Spanish ever lost
the migration of Pueblo peoples and pronghorns.
You walk upright
among equivocal patterns.

Kyrie kyrie, I call out.

Leave that nice ball cap behind.

I’m Shelley Armitage for Radio Readers Book Bytes wishing you a beautiful day. Please follow me at https://shelleyarmitage.com/ where my new book, A Habit of Landscape, is featured.

Fall Read 2023: Wisdom of the Natural World 2023 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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Shelley Armitage grew up in the small ranching and farming community of Vega, Texas, in Oldham County in the northwest Texas Panhandle. She still owns and operates the family farm inherited from her parents. Most of her adult life has been spent away from the Panhandle as a university professor in Texas, New Mexico, and Hawai’i, but Armitage always has returned to the “farm”—mainly in summers—which offered until recently a 360 degree view of earth and sky. Witnessing the natural world and its changes remains for her a centering and care-giving activity.