Kathryn MacDonald – Skydancing

Kathryn LE P&W May 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing May 2023

Skydancing, poems by Kathryn MacDonald


two Red-tailed Hawks carve
circles in a clear sky
sunshine glancing off rufous tails, setting
feathers to embers
a dive by one
then the other. They

rise with field mice or voles,
a rabbit kit clasped in hooked talons.

The hawks nest high in the elm
above our circular pond the tree’s
leafless branches silver against the sky.

Deer sip spring-fed waters
and we give ourselves
to bacchanal afternoons –
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe

forgetting the surprise of death.


They march, the life-size warriors made of clay,
a terracotta army six thousand strong.
Its generals uniformed in painted garments
adorned with birds, headdresses like wings
leading archers, chariots, and silent marching
infantrymen. Seven hundred thousand conscripts
captured from the emperor’s wars
created this wondrous spectacle, whose alive
at the end were sealed inside the tomb
with their creations. Is it any wonder
Qin Shihuangdi feared death, sought elixirs?


Always it is summer along this underground stream
where musicians play to dancing water birds.
See the bronze crane with a fish in her beak,
the terra cotta musicians – one sitting, his legs outstretched,
see how he plucks a flat-stringed instrument,
how another kneels with his drum held high to his head.
Listen to the silence. Notice the stillness of the air,
how the sleek long-legged crane with patina-dappled feathers
does not swallow her catch nor lift her smooth graceful legs
to entertain the warring emperor who lies in his tomb
having swallowed a potion with quicksilver stirred in it –
created by alchemists for their leader who raised
the glass to immortality, nonetheless, lost his life.


In the news today, Russia’s president sends an army
of one-hundred-and-fifty thousand westward into Ukraine,
China’s president bullies tiny Taiwan,
the Taliban’s military chief commits human rights abuses
against the citizens of Afghanistan,
on the U.S. border many refugees lose their lives
in deserts too hot and dry for people to survive,
here in this small city in Canada, spiralling numbers
of homeless live on the street, and we talk across
this nation of reconciliation.
It is easy to think
that Qin Shihuangdi’s terracotta army – his fantasy
of dancing cranes – a magnificent act of creation, but

what is the price of leaders chasing legacies,
when the price is paid by populations?

© Kathryn MacDonald

Kathryn MacDonald’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and England, as well as in anthologies. Her poem “Duty / Deon” won the Arc Award of Awesomeness (January 2021).  “Seduction” was shortlisted for the Freefall Annual Poetry Contest and was published in Freefall (Fall 2020). She is the author of A Breeze You Whisper (poems) and Calla & Édourd (fiction). Examples of her published work can be found on her website: https://kathrynmacdonald.com

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