Birds of Prey
Their shadow dims the sunshine of our day,
As they go lumbering across the sky,
Squawking in joy of feeling safe on high,
Beating their heavy wings of owlish gray.
They scare the singing birds of earth away
As, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,
Watching the toilers with malignant eye,
From their exclusive haven — birds of prey.
They swoop down for the spoil in certain might,
And fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.
They beat us to surrender weak with fright,
And tugging and tearing without let or pause,
They flap their hideous wings in grim delight,
And stuff our gory hearts into their maws.
Born in Jamaica, Claude McKay (1889-1948) played a key role in the Harlem Renaissance, publishing poetry that was both reflective of the pastoral scenes of his Caribbean youth and sharply critical critical of white racism in the United States. “Birds of Prey” appeared in Harlem Shadows, published in 1922.