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Cautionary Tale of Girls and Birds of Prey

                                    Sandy Longhorn

Once there was a girl who knew the hawk’s eye was on her,
the perching branch in the oldest oak loomed outside

her bedroom window. In the hunting time, the girl ran
between the house and barn to do her chores. She ducked

at any sudden shift in the wind and stifled her need to cry,
a sound she knew from mice, chipmunks, and rabbits.

Only the snakes went quietly when plucked from the grass,
but she knew their writhing was a form of screaming.

Soon, her father grew impatient with her fear and began to bait
the bird with offerings of bloody chunks of beef.

He meant to calm the girl through exposure, though her eyes
glassed over at each feeding. In the fall, the bird struck,

sinking talons through the tendons of her neck, into the muscles
on her back, catching her beneath the shoulder blades and lifting.

In the end, the pain and the wind ripped any sound from her throat,
but her father saw her from a distance, twisting. No time to reach

the rifle, no time to raise an alarm. Instead, he built a shrine
at the base of the oak and worshipped what she left behind:

a lock of hair, a baby’s tooth, dried blood on a bandage
from a scratch the night before, and her prayers for protection,

a battered jewelry box filled with bits of fur and the bones of smaller prey.

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