The Condor

Dark and lugubrious, his eyes
signify no intent beyond brooding.
All day he has been poised on thermals
as if the land would rise like a hand
and say: Blessings! Blessings!
Observant as a child who watches
the sidewalk for a dollar
dropped by chance along the way to school.
He waits. The dollar's never there.
It is a story like the one they tell prisoners
of a world outside the wall to keep them
simple with hope.
Now he's passed the rift valley
empty of game and descends
smooth as a spent bullet to the Bay.
He feeds there on salmon spilled
by the fishing boats.
It is always less than he wanted.
He dreams of a freshly-killed goat
on a grassy hill near Monterey,
a calf, a yearling torn by rocks
or the teeth of wild dogs.
But it is always something less.
Today salmon. Tomorrow a rabid skunk,
a coyote dropped by fever.

The Apache said the bird made thunder
by beating its wings. The Apache said
lightning was born in the condor's eyes.
I tell my son the old legends
but think instead of losses. Think of the doomed
Irish days of my grandfather and the miles
he drifted; his eyes red after a fifth of Jameson
as this great lost searcher's looking out at a world.
Always one which gave less than the dreams.
But he told me the legends. How there
was once a people whose poetry
thundered on Tara's hill, whose eyes flashed lightning
when the world was young
and no man could measure the breadth of life.

It was before the factories, before the wife
dead with the third child and the child stillborn.
It was before the friends imprisoned, the dole,
the immigration. I sometimes think, he said,
that life is fine unless you stay too long at it.

We call the condor an endangered species
and like the sound of that captured phrase.
And the condor, his wings translucent
as an old memory beat: Alexander! Alexander!
With no other worlds to conquer.

"The Condor" © Copyright 1989 by Michael Hogan. Reprinted from Making Our Own Rules (Greenfield Review Press, 1989).