Feeding by Katie Fallon


Rat pups are thin-skinned with oversized heads, feet, and tails, and are full of gelatinous fat that splatters when bitten. These pups’ eyes hadn’t opened yet. They’d never seen their mother, but they’d felt her warmth, smelled her skin, rooted under her. She’d nursed them—even in death her milk still swelled their bellies. When I cut out the stomachs they look like white peas, some like pearls.

Beneath my canvas coat, under my stained hoodie, inside my tee shirt, I wear a stretched-out and awkward nursing bra. It offers little support. In public I wear bulky sweaters and jackets. I’m hungry all the time, but because of my infant daughter’s intolerance of cow-milk protein, I avoid dairy. I stop at a half-glass of beer. After having two children in two years, my body is lumpy and soft, my eyes propped up by dark half-moons. Moments with dead rats are quiet, meditative.

Behind me an air purifier purrs next to a row of cages, each holding a pair of wide, silent eyes: a great horned owl, a barred owl, several screech-owls, a peregrine falcon. I snip the pups into rough quarters—head, upper torso, lower torso, hips and back legs. I scoop them into a plastic cup and clip the cup to my belt. I grab the gauntlet, the leather glove, from its hook and head outside to the red-tailed hawk’s mew.

She greets me with chicken-chirps, the quiet kind she makes without opening her beak, and fluffs her buff-colored breast while balancing on one foot, the other curled against her body.  I pull the stiff glove over my hand, put it in front of her feet and offer a rat bit—a good one, a bloody torso with lungs and heart. She leans forward, steps one foot on the glove, and snaps the food from my fingers. She swallows, chirps, and cocks her head to peer into the cup fastened to my belt. I pull out another piece and she steps with the second foot. I feel her bulky weight, her talons clasping the leather. She is young—cere still greenish, new rusty tail feathers just now replacing striped ones—but she will never fly: the end of her wing severed by a bullet.


Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” pulsed from the computer’s speakers. Strange music choice, I thought, as the ultrasonographer silently slid the probe across my belly, pushing here, typing with her free hand, sliding again. I watched her face, I watched the flickering screen; I could decipher neither. This, my first pregnancy. The heart was beating, I saw that, and she’d labeled other blobs.

She leaned back. “OK,” she said, handing me a paper towel. “The radiologist will write up a report later today.”

            The technician passed me flimsy square printouts labeled with the names of various body parts. I paused at “Hand.” The bones of five fingers there, inside my uterus, pushing against the walls, paddling the amniotic sea. A hand to hold. A hand to pet a dog, pick a flower, type a sentence, lay a brick.

I blinked. She didn’t meet my gaze but I thought the corner of her mouth twitched. A game. “So?” I asked. “Boy or girl?”

“Oh,” she answered, as if it was old news, “Girl.”

My little girl! Then, relief and worry: unequal pay for equal work. Cramps. Disney. Domestic violence. Victim. She probably wouldn’t bring a gun to school, wouldn’t become a serial killer or a rapist. Or president, or a professional athlete. “Sexy Back” was still playing.

The technician passed me flimsy square printouts labeled with the names of various body parts. I paused at “Hand.” The bones of five fingers there, inside my uterus, pushing against the walls, paddling the amniotic sea. A hand to hold. A hand to pet a dog, pick a flower, type a sentence, lay a brick.

It’s not a blank slate, I thought.


While my daughters nap in their car seats I turn up NPR, crack the windows, and slip into the January drizzle, my boots crunching the lot’s gravel. Inside again, the room is warm. I slide the gallon Ziploc from the fridge. The mice inside are cold and still, their pink fingers curled. I snip a hole in their bellies and squeeze out the intestines. The rest I dice—an arm and shoulder, hip, rib cage with organs, head at the base of the skull.

The hawk and I walk the mew together, slowly, her swallowing mouse bits and me talking softly. I don’t move my arm much; I need to be a stable perch. This is training, learning: reinforcement and operant conditioning. She will travel to schools and camps. Kids, we hope, will be inspired—her red tail, her hooked beak, her unblinking stare, those claw-tipped talons. She will change the future. Our way to save the world, whatever that means. And the sacrifices repaid.

The hawk doesn’t like the tails. She snaps a mouse’s hind end from my fingers, feels the tail against her tongue and twitches, spitting the piece onto the gravel floor of her mew. You will eat this poor dead mouse I say to her, and stoop to pick it up. She will swallow it eventually, then bend to run the sides of her beak along the glove, cleaning up, leaving strings of bloody fat on the leather. She straightens and stares at me, this young hawk, this tragedy.

We finish in fifteen minutes and I scurry back to my car. Both still asleep, although the little one’s hat has slipped over her eyes, and the big one’s dropped the oversized magnifying glass she insisted on bringing. I watch for a moment—yes, both chests rise and fall gently. I run back inside, hang the glove, and scrub my bloodstained hands.


A day-old chicken can be split five ways: head, wings and torso, each leg, the bulbous abdomen. Cut into the abdomen accidentally and get squirted with runny, yellow yolk. After hatching, the yolk feeds the chick for a day, two, maybe three. Then it’s hunt-and-peck, follow Mother, hide beneath her, scurry, hide again.

As I scissor through a tiny body I think of it curled inside a shell, the delicate bones lengthening, flat feet spreading, maybe pushing, like hands, like my daughters’ hands. I think of a head thrusting desperately, hammering its way out through an expanding crack, into the first light of life.

But a short life for these chicks, purchased frozen for 35 cents each. Thawed, now snipped into bits, now tumbled into a plastic cup. The hawk swallows the heads, snaps the legs, relishes the torso and tiny wings. The soggy abdomen requires a few bites. She holds it under a toenail, dips her beak into the golden mess that’s leaking onto the black leather. She flicks her head, some yolk hits my cheek. I flinch, she flinches. Then she gulps down the rest. Yolk glistens on her talons, on her black beak.


During my daughter’s last hours as an only child we lay in the grass and watched vultures float over the meadow. From the treeline, a red-tailed hawk called. The dogs wriggled on their backs in the clover below a late-summer sun, a clear cerulean sky. These predators, this world, hunting. These sacrifices. These girls.

My daughter rolled down the hill, wanted me to roll, too. We laughed into the grass, into the trees and the breeze and the sweeping, sailing blue. A vulture’s shadow slid over our bodies, a flickering. Inside, a ripple, a pull. Life ready for the light.

Katie Fallon is the author of the nonfiction books Vulture (2017) and Cerulean Blues (2011), as well as Look, See the Farm! (2018) and Look, See the Bird! (2017) for children. Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She teaches nonfiction in West Virginia Wesleyan College’s Low-Residency MFA program. Her first word was “bird.”

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