Haida Gwaii Pecking Order
Paul McLaughlin

--in Old Massett in July, Haida families feast on crabs
caught by hand in the North Pacific surf
and dump the crimson shells on the tide-damp gravel shore

--black-eyed ravens swoop down from the tops of nearby totem poles
and toss the debris for morsels of crab meat

--a cloud-high bald-headed eagle falls into a dive:
the ravens scatter: the young eagle's talons slam into the largest shell
and he sails out over the Inlet on pulsating wingfulls of air

--another eagle swoops down and screeches: out of respect
(or terror), the young bird releases the crab:
the older bird rolls in mid-air and snags it before it hits the water

--the young bird circles, his appetite gone

--the older bird settles into a pine tree
dangerously close to a clan of tiny songbirds:
their nests are threatened: they mob the vastly huger eagle,
harass him with claws and beaks and shrieks,
dive-bomb him from above and behind
    drive him out of the tree
        drive him out over the Inlet
            force him down onto the water
                force him down into the water

--the crabs feast on eagle meat

August 2000

Haida Gwaii means 'Haida homeland' and is the traditional name for The Queen Charlotte Islands.