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poetry American Eagle

What's the future of our environment? A poisonous wasteland, says Sam Friedman, offering a bleak view of what's imminent.

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I had a heart-to-heart last night
with the last bald eagle of eternity.
He fell from a glitter-lit sky,
and spoke his travels
as if no other ears remained
to hear him:

As I flew east from California
to traverse this land of beauty,
this nest from which democracy first soared,
my feathers shivered and my talons twitched
with my pride as this nation’s living symbol.

Below my whistling wings,
I saw America working,
trucks filled with produce
for the bellies of America:
produce blistering from acrid rain,
truck exhausts like Etnas
erupting through my sky.
The kidney-shaken  drivers never slept,
just raced due dates and penalties
along highways bordered by tire treads and empty Buds.

As I flew above a Kansas prairie burgeoning winter wheat,
I saw my meal below:
a rabbit scampers through a garden,
lettuce crinkling green in its chewing mouth.
I tear downwards through the air,
pumping pounding blood fueling my wing-beats,
talons avid for furry flesh,
almost tasting the beating heart of the rabbit
as I would crunch it soaring upwards
to my banquet of the sky.
But I saw that luscious rabbit twitch, leap, die
from the lettuce she had eaten,
her corpse a battle-trophy
fought for by three hungry children
cast into the fields when the welfare ran out.
The winner knifed through still-warm fur,
gulped protein-rich blood,
drove his teeth into steaming meat,
shivered, convulsed, and collapsed
to his own final night-time.
As I flew onwards,
my last glimpse was of one child
shoving the rabbit's rump
into his salivating mouth,
the other thrusting her knife
into the child lying lifeless
by her side.

I sat aghast on my porch,
staring at this starving eagle,
his eyes no longer farsighted,
his feathers mottled by acids,
his voice no longer a clarion call
to the beleaguered of the world,
and I asked him,
"What next?"

As he winged up to the sky,
his feathers hissing leaking air,
he creaked his response:

I'm flying down to Washington, to the Treasury,
to be stamped onto the trailing surface
of America's dollars.
It's my last chance
to symbolize anything
or to live anywhere
that is covered with green.

“American Eagle” also appears in Big Hammer.

Sam Friedman, an AIDS researcher, is currently involved with antiwar activities, Jewish Voice for Peace and writing articles on sustainable, good societies. He has published a poetry book and several chapbooks and is author of Teamster Rank and File (Columbia University Press 1982).