We're pleased to present selections from the 2001 NEW MICHIGAN PRESS / DIAGRAM Chapbook Competition winner, A Calendar of Crows by Michael Sowder.
This chapbook is available from NMP. Buy it online here.
A CALENDAR OF CROWS
JULY: WATCHING CROWS
At dawn, they're in the trees
I spooked one last night
They say one appeared
On a cliff on Blood Mountain,
At the sentinel's cry they rise
They're always flying off,
I think of the sky in their bones
DECEMBER: CROW CONTROL
"December 16, 1937, twenty-six thousand (26,000) birds were killed in the bombing of a large crow roost near Dempsey, Okla. The Game and Fish Commission bombed another roost at Binger, Okla, on December 6, 1938, killing eighteen thousand (18,000) crows. Frank S. Davis, inspector for the Illinois State Department of Conservation, killed three hundred, twenty-eight thousand (328,000) crows in roosts near Rockford Ill., with the use of festoons of dynamite bombs."
See Life Magazine, March 25, 1940, for photographs.
APRIL: CROW WITH LEXUS
Now a fanatical crow is hopping around
How banal it seems, a tap against
Since I was a child, I've been fascinated by the enigmatic crow. I watched them, studied them, read about them until they became a dark, familiar presence at the borders of my imagination, just as they inhabit the borderlands of our worldin our world but not of it. They have long been associated with humans. The crow is sacred to the Hopi and to tribes of the Pacific Northwest. It was sacred to the god of poetry, Apollo. Interestingly, the legendary father of Greek rhetoric too was Corax, perhaps because the noise of crows reminded some witty myth-maker of the noise of rhetoric, or perhaps because a crow can learn to talk if you're willing to split its tongue. Crows followed the Vikings into battle, as the constellation, Corvus, follows Orion across the sky. Jose Cuervo labels our wildest liquor. Crows and ravens are the most intelligent of birds and are social in sophisticated ways. Pet crows will baby-sit human babies in cradles when humans leave the house. (In most states, you can kill crows, but can't own them.) They're said to know when a gun is loaded. They're enamored of shiny objects. Their beautiful, iridescent black drinks in every color. In winter at the University of Michigan, they gather in roosts of tens of thousands in the trees outside Angell Hall. A stunning spectacle.
My poetry explores and tries to discover what the world is trying to say to us, and perhaps, as James Dickey said, to "make the world accessible." The phenomenal world lies everywhere before us in splendor and suffering, and as we study it carefully (as counseled, say, by Pattiann Rogers' "Suppose Your Father Was a Redbird") something else speaks to us through this phenomenal world, perhaps less to our intellect than to our emotional nature. After science and technology and religion have had their say, something yet remains, something that is not, however, inaccessible. To me, poetry seeks that mystery, lives in it, and then attempts to reproduce it with words.
Crows are one of its messengers.