American Harpy

We found a frozen river bass discarded
on the banks of the Mississippi,

its insides bruised pink, stiffened
eyes empty as gaping lips.

It was a Saturday,
Saint Valentine’s Day.

A bald eagle skimmed the water
and caught a fish in its claws.

We watched this.
The bird flew over us, stirring wind

when it dropped the thing,
scales slipping from polished talons.

Was it an accident? Was this malice?
Our neighbour Bob, who summers in Canada,

is a card-carrying member of the NRA.
A local historian of sorts, he conducts

the church choir’s lovely organ strains.
Says he recalls when the KKK

ran the only bridge across the river in Dubuque.
Isn’t that insane?—

rows of white sheets
hanging from clotheslines of neoclassical homes,

next to drying boxer briefs.
—It was the 90s.

At night, we walked past a window illuminated:
the house of the president of the university.

Bodies gathered around a dinner table,
pouring wine, discussing policies,

and we recalled students marching to the house’s entryway
when an artist placed a hooded figure

in the Old Capitol’s walkway.
If I came bearing bones, an ill-thought effigy

would I be let into the president’s foyer?
The snowbanks outside glinted with ice,

a hill so sleek with crystals
it could carry me into the river.

Inside the library, in a Heartland State,
a dozen birds-of-prey appeared

in the window behind the stage
as a man read to us his poetry.

Should art rouse us? Should it placate?
What if the eagle wasn’t bald?

It was an American Harpy:
black feathers, black beak,

the most powerful talons of any species,
its cry restricted to one screech.

It was a new emblem for this country,
A fiercer image of freedom we could follow

along the water of Mississippi
to Ferguson, to Missouri.

Cassidy McFadzean was born in Regina, earned an MFA from the University of Iowa, and currently lives in Toronto. She is the author of Hacker Packer (M&S 2015), winner of two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.


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