The Snowy

Standing by the wires of your enclosure, I stared into your eyes.
I had to stare until your eyes showed they’d seen me.
You hunched on your cement crag, black talons just showing
beneath your chest. Your beak, like a third gleaming claw, hid
in the white fluff of your face. Your round head, helmet of fleece,
had no neck, no ears. Under your blizzard of feathers your closed
wings were invisible. Elemental form simplified as an egg,
you held perfectly still on your artificial perch. You, too,
might be a crafty fake, stuffed or carved. Except your eyes. Alive,
enormous, yellow circles containing black circles, clear, slick,
heartstopping double barrels of concentrated rage pointed at me.
Without seeing me. Suddenly, your head flicked completely around,
faced straight backwards and swiveled front again.
So quick I doubted you had done it. Then your glass-clear pupils
disappeared, your eyelids of white down slid up over them. Your
face shut. It went blank. Your hooded snow-head looked blind.
I remained beside the wires, leaning toward you, absorbing your
chilling closeness. Constantly shoving past you, the ever-shifting
crowd. Western sunlight slanted into your diorama. Now I saw
your white chest was flecked with dusky. Captivity had soiled you,
had worn and aged you, under the strokes of countless avid eyes.
Eyes such as mine. At feeding time the crowd squabbled to get closer.
Through a slit in the painted wall (a simulation of arctic tundra)
your keeper released a panic of voles and mice. You ignored them,
you let them vanish into crannies of the sculptured rocks.
You settled lower, sullen, on your perch. You gathered emptiness and
silence about you, until you seemed no longer there, no longer alive.
The park had emptied. The gates were closing. I had to leave you.
Perhaps you waited until dark to unhinge your wings, to drift
noiseless down. Perhaps you put hooks into your prey, when they,
grown used to the absence of threat in the air, emerged
with wrinkled noses and scuttled here and there.
—. May Swenson