Review of Lee Slonimsky’s Red-Tailed Hawk on Wall Street

by David Beckman

Red-Tailed Hawk on Wall Street
Lee Slonimsky, New York
Spuyten Duyvil,
2015. 89 pp.

How many poets plant their flag where Wall Street and poetry intersect? Wallace Stevens stood at a similarly unusual corner, that of the insurance business and poetry. But Stevens never attempted to capture his corporate geography in his poems.

Now comes Lee Slonimsky’s 6th book of poems, Red-Tailed Hawk on Wall Street, where his dual identity of poet and stock trader meets and generates creative fire, often captured in his alter ego, Paul, a stock trader who inhabits some of these poems:

Paul loves this glade, where time almost stands still
away from stress and brawl of trading floor.
Still numbers, yes: he loves to count the leaves
that brim so green mid-May.

These poems, rooted in the fact of a red-tailed hawk living on a ledge above Manhattan’s canyons, achieve a unique vision that transcends city and country, Wall Street and woods. Indeed, the hawk’s true habitation — the natural world — is home for deep contemplation and tranquility that stock trading can never deliver, yet which Slonimsky chooses fiercely to embrace:

                                             Time’s ancient road
looks brand new to us, like a cresting wave,
effects of wind, a storm, pale lightning’s sear.

But every patch of grass has history,
invisible yet summoned easily
if one would only let thoughts, feelings move
as slowly as the ground dries – yes – right here.

Slonimsky’s hawk, native to country and woods, yet now inhabiting the city, gives wing to these finely etched poems where the poet’s keen eye and relentless imagination capture nuance, feeling and insight:

                                                      No fear:
how grand his lofty view of river, park!
And then he feels himself inside this bird,
as if his arms were winged, his face a beak,
as if transformed by some primordial Word
(if this be sleep, then let him never wake).

Here is the superb achievement of these poems: observer becomes hawk; poet becomes metaphor.

The way a hawk rests on this concrete cliff,
then circles high above the jostling throngs
and glides, her wings agleam, through early mists,
you’d think that Wall Street is where she belongs.

The book’s other sections show Slonimsky’s astonishing range, where poems evoke love in Italy and France (he’s every bit as evocative of affairs of heart as those of hawk); metaphysics of place; and meditations on weather where sunlight, rain, clouds and wind become charged elements in diurnal dramas:

Huge shadows dance on this steep wooded hill
whenever sunlight seeps between some clouds
that quiver in the wind. It’s quite the thrill
to watch clouds waltz and pirouette, the floods
of all last week receded. We’re awash
in breaking skies and warming gusts, the glow
of sudden sun on tangled greenery.

Delight for the reader resides in the arc of this collection, but also in the poet’s skill as a craftsman. Here, the sonnet may be Slonimsky’s chosen habitat, but other forms enrich his palate, allowing line, rhyme and meter to frame and feed the living pulse of these extraordinary poems.