Neighborhood Crows, Poem by Edward Harkness

In lazy flight this afternoon, they resemble
scraps of crepe blown aloft above the sunlit
crowns of firs. They’re my aloof neighbors.
All their guttural utterances are black, cynical,

feathered with irony. The point is, they mutter,
there’s no point. They clean up our messes.
In the corner of a field they hop to a scrap
of burger still in its silver wrapper.

Tolerant as Lao Tzu, plain as nickels, they gather
on wires in squads of nine. Earning a living,
they know, depends on luck, a canny eye
and magic, which explains their sorcerer’s robes,

glossy as lacquered shadows at twilight.
Like the universe, they do not judge.
They have no comment on the divorce rate
or the attendance of gangsters at church.

Instead, they’re the lamplighters of old, lighting stars
to signal day’s end as they pass over power lines.
Imponderable, ordinary, like night itself,
they spread their wings to shelter their young,

invite their friends to dinner in a ditch
or near an upturned garbage can. When threatened
by a hawk they call in reinforcements to harry
the intruder, distracting hunter away from the hunted.

At dawn they reappear, routine as soot
but wiser. For crows are learned monks
in vacant lots, beggars who take the vow
of poverty and then take over the city.

Crows have nothing to teach, nothing to sell.
They joke, cajole, bicker and tend
to their families. They are Zen masters
of the art of blending in, always making the best

of a bad situation, as poets do who know
it’s hopeless but go on anyway with their crow visions
and dark pronouncements, feigning nonchalance
when we fail to understand their off-the-cuff

commentaries, those suggestions they offer in order
to survive the coming apocalypse. If we paid attention,
we might even learn something—not merely
how to face the day when the comet strikes or the missiles

rise from their silos, but how to live in the now,
how to start anew, how to be better than we’ve been
and, despite the madness of our time,
how to get along with our neighbors, how to thrive.


Edward Harkness is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Saying the Necessary and Beautiful Passing Lives, both from Pleasure Boat Studio Press. His poems can be found online in 2River, Atticus Review, Cascadia Review, The Good Men Project, Hinchas de Poesia, The Humanist, Rat’s Ass Journal, Salt River Review, Split Lip Magazine, Switched-On Gutenberg, and Terrain.Org. Recent publications in print journals include Chariton Review and Miramar. His most recent chapbook, Ice Children, was published by Split Lip Press in 2014. To hear Ed read “Union Creek in Winter,” (and published, not incidentally, on Jan. 21, 2017, the day of the inauguration of #45), go to Terrain.org at http://www.terrain.org/2017/poetry/letter-to-america-harkness/.

He lives in Shoreline, Washington.