Sunday, July 12, 2009


The raucous sound of crows cawing in the backyard reminds me of how many poems I’ve written about these dark birds, most of the poems not-so-dark in content. Crows have always fascinated and comforted me, and I’m among a minority of crow lovers since these creatures are regarded as nuisances in many places throughout the world. Next month, crow hunting season in the U.S. begins and doesn’t close until the end of March. There isn’t even a bag limit on these birds if they’re found “about to commit depredations upon ornamental trees, agricultural crops, livestock, etc.” However, hunters who kill these creatures can’t sell their kill! The laws don’t say anything about the four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, and I guess those who kill crows could eat them if they were so disposed – my father once shot one in the backyard of his home in Franklinton, Louisiana, and my mother, at his bizarre request, baked it in a pie… of which I didn’t partake, I hasten to add.

Crows are canny and score high on their I.Q. tests, rating at the top of the bird scale in intelligence; e.g., they’re said to have the skill to drop nuts with hard shells on streets through which heavy traffic runs, waiting for cars to crush the nuts open. The birds stand alongside pedestrians and when the stoplight halts traffic, they strut out to pick up their cracked nuts.

I’ve never seen a murder of crows (the name given to a group of congregating crows), but I have seen them gathered in cemeteries and near carrion and have identified them as ravens, rather than crows. Like Robert Frost, crows symbolize hopefulness to me. In his “Dust of Snow,” he wrote: “The way a crow/Shook down on me/The dust of snow/From a hemlock tree/Has given my heart/ a change of mood/And saved some part/Of a day I had rued.”

When I lived in Iran, the sight of huge ravens parading through the gardens of the Shah Abbas Hotel in Isfahan made me feel less homesick and diminished the waves of cultural shock I felt during my first year in Iran. They were large, bold creatures that almost sat down at the outdoor tables with us, hovering nearby as we enjoyed an afternoon drink of Tuborg beer in the gardens. They were waiting, perhaps, for the snack that accompanied the Tuborg – the meat of pistachios we accidentally dropped while cracking them open.

A recent poem I wrote about crows:


every place I’ve lived
they’ve taunted me,

“my territory,” they caw,
zooming back and forth

from front yard to back,
landing in the hemlock,

screaming like jealous women
finding their lovers in new nests.

Hunching shoulders and spreading wing,
they inflate their size,

dare me to take over
the landlocked wood of oak and poplar,

indignant trees I really don’t wish to claim,
my deepest longings for river, lake

ocean, any rushing stream.

Every time I step outdoors
they start up,

thinking they’ve frightened me,
caused me to depart The Mountain,

not knowing how much
they comfort me with their harsh cries,

their sheen of confidence
bringing me messages

about life in the other world,
death in this world,

consoling or terrifying news,
their disclaimer: they’re only messengers.

How many poems I’ve written for crows
and yet they never stop to read them,

so careless of my admiration
for the way they speak back to the world,

all of which is their base territory,
a global field of play.

Sometimes I see them attacking raptors
like that one, the black marauder diving now

into outstretched branches of the hemlock,
a suspect creature, ruthlessly gurgling

to its prey, an owl lost in daylight.

And yet I love their dissonance,
throaty sounds echoing

remorselessly through treetops.

I know they aren’t wholly unkind or dishonorable
as they bring food to their feeble, aged parents,

opening blood-soaked beaks to proclaim
a Gospel of love and filial piety.

Note: The picture above is taken from the cover of one of my chapbooks, a painting done by my brother Paul.
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