The Hawk in the Train

Mick Gowar

Springtime in Cambridgeshire. An elderly Paytrain
Limps across the grey-green fens
Under a leaden sky. I sit beside the window
Trying not to look out. 'Brandon -'

The guard growls. 'Next stop, Brandon.'
The carriages totter over the rusty points.
The ancient diesel engine shudders
To a halt. No one gets out.

Then a sudden twitter of excitement:
Two young men, each with a falcon on his wrist,
Have climbed aboard. Two kids rush up
To pet the birds - are stopped,

Warned to approach slowly, quietly.
'Then, maybe - if you're very careful…'
Helmeted like medieval knights, the hawks
Accept the tentative, one-fingered strokes

As tribute. One lifts a foot in slow salute
Exposing cruel talons. The children shrink back,
Giggling nervously, and are called back to their seats
By parents anxious at the sight of claw and beak.

Freed, the two men take the empty seats
In front of me. They nod a friendly greeting,
Hoping for a chat. Not native fen-men, obviously.
The two blind hawks sit motionless.

I ask them if they've been to some Country Fair
Demonstrating Falconry (out here, you see,
We're very keen on killing birds.) No, no! They're
Both appalled at the use of hawks for blood sports.

No. These birds are working birds, on contract
To the US Air Force Tactical Bombing Wing.
The runways, so they tell me, in the spring
Are plagued by flights of nesting birds.

(This is the Pentagon's nightmare:
A bird flies into the intake of a jet
Taking off and armed, and in a flash -
No more eastern England…)

So these two birds are flown -
Once, twice a week - along the runways.
Airborne deterrence, and it works.
Somewhere behind us, an FI-11

Climbs into the sky, heading east.
Hearing the roar, the younger hawk
Jerked from his coma, shrieks
'A-Wake! A-Wake! A-Wake!'

Artwork by Deena Warner

Train by Deena Warner



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