Before he died
Archduke Franz Ferdinand,
gunned down in Sarajevo
to jump-start World War I,
bragged he had shot three
thousand stags and a miscellany
of foxes, geese, wolves, and boars
driven toward him by beaters,
stout men he ordered to flush
creatures from their cover
into his sights, a tradition
the British aristocracy
carried on, further aped
by rich Americans
from Teddy R. to Ernest H.,
Court Justice Antonin
Scalia, pudgy son of Sicilian
immigrants, indulged in
when, years later, he had
scores of farm-raised birds
beaten from their cages and scared
up for him to shoot down
which brought him an inner joy.
to him when he was a boy?
The adult male pheasant escaped prison camp
outside of town at the ex-dairy, now game farm
for gone-soft gunners who want their kill
served up to them unsavvy and easy;
now it was winter and the Wisconsin snow
had accumulated to a depth of sixteen inches,
but when he was taken out of the pen,
the only world he’d ever known,
to be set loose in an adjacent stubby corn field
it was autumn and he was without portfolio;
a suppressed instinct told him
to take to the air when the hunt dogs came,
sniffing close to the sumac stand
where he was hiding at the edge of the field
in a world he had no warning was so threatening!
The sports club had deprived him of an education.
They were flusher bird dogs
rustling and rooting through the undergrowth
for their shotgun-poised followers,
and luckily the dogs hadn’t smelled him.
But the guns rang out shortly afterward
and he heard falling fluttering feathers and a whump
as one of his unlettered fellows from the breed pens
made the fatal mistake of taking to the air.
Our bird passed his crash survival course
and became one of the escapees
who turn up along the country roads
in the vicinity of the game farm;
citified motorists briefly spot these newly released and marvel
at their beauty, likely not knowing how they got there,
fugitives on the lam,
birds who learned how to lay low in hostile territory;
birds with a suit of attractive feathers
meant to attract females.
This pheasant had a moment
of myopic or ancient joy
when a woman drove up a steep farm lane
near the hunt club with a Christmas cookie icing project
on her mind; and as she crested the sunny hill, The One
With Rainbows On His Wings chose to blast out of a snowdrift
twenty yards ahead of her,
and flying up to land on the drift’s icy summit
he lingered in the bright sun
and spread his wings triumphantly!
Looking down at the site of his captive birth,
he provided a brilliant though ephemeral sighting
in Waukesha County, known widely for its stewardship
of vanishing habitat and stupidly-named sprawl,
famous for its permission to make Fox Run shopping malls
out of its fox runs, and Rolling Meadow subdivisions
from its disappeared rolling meadows.
future generations may study the falsity and foolishness of it.
In earlier days before the bulldozers, before the lure of the dollar,
the big working farms were out there in profusion
And pheasants weren’t dropped loose,
in front of quick-fix gunners;
from chicks they were free and
had more of a chance to learn
what a pheasant needs to know.
Hail to the die-hard farmers who stay and farm!
Hail to those who harbor the ever squeezed-in wildlife!
Hail to their forbearance when the newly-arrived
city folks complain about their animals’ smells
and curse their slow-moving tractors on the roads.
Revere them, these people threatened,
the salt of earth,
the bread of heaven we once had.