How I gained respect for the night herons

It was shortly after dawn.
We were passing an inn closed
for the season when I yelled
“Stop!” I’ve often heard night
herons squawking hoarsely

or the screech of a murder
victim deep in the marsh.
Seldom do I see them. They
hunch on dead trees like old
men in cold weather. But

this black crowned night heron
was standing in the driveway
of the inn engaged in mortal
battle with a five foot long
water snake twisting, striking

him whose impulse was to fly off
from us but here was a huge meal.
Breeding season. A nest of young
gaping for food. It stood its ground
the snake grasped in its beak

shaking it, biting into it, lashed
by the long muscular tail. We
crept close enough to see
the heron’s bright red eyes
polished buttons glinting fiercely.

It was an epic battle, Laocoon
encircled by serpents, but here
he was winning, barely. Not
a commanding figure, squatter than
most herons, drably plumaged

not the sort of bird we’d cast
as hero, but he wouldn’t give up.
At last he cut through the spine
and slowly overloaded made his
way flying low toward his home.

 

Marge Piercy

About Marge Piercy

Knopf has published the paperback of Marge Piercy’s 18th poetry book THE HUNGER MOON: New & Selected Poems. Piercy has published 17 novels, including SEX WARS. PM Press just republished DANCE THE EAGLE TO SLEEP, VIDA, and BRAIDED LIVES with new introductions by Piercy. PM Press will be bringing out her first short story collection THE COST OF LUNCH, ETC. in Spring 2014. Her memoir is SLEEPING WITH CATS, Harper Perennial.
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