Enter the corvid. The raven, the jackdaw, the blue jay, the crow. It has been a haunted spring, with fever and vomit blossoming like meadows.
An old story: a jackdaw steals a cardinal’s ring and is declared a saint. Can death, save us? Outside the gales are ringing. Outside the light fiddles in corners and nooks. Moon many, and procreating without realizing. Outside, another man coughs up a dream and it plats on the sidewalk.
In 1918 the Carolina parakeet goes extinct. In 1918 Spanish Flu ravages the west. In 1918, people mysteriously begin to sleep without end. In 1918 it is rumored that the trash piles of New York will reach the halls of heaven.
Enter raven. Enter his large body and loner life. Enter his mythology, enter his iridescence unseen, enter his savage hook and dense, black eye.
Raven sits on an iron weather vane and starts to preach. The land of unknown is spreading, says he. The land will spit up gravestones as mushrooms bloom along a backyard fence. He hucks up a piece of seed, and lays it by his feet. He says a half of a seed is a life cut short. Lend a claw to the soil and dig yourself a spot. Raven cleans a wound beneath his arm and flies off towards the dark.
In 1347 the Black Death is winging. In 1347 ships sink in cold waters like melting frost. In 1347, a new emperor of Byzantine is won and crowned. In 1347 sickness has just begun its greatest march.
In Sweden today youth are resigning. Refugees recline themselves onto beds and cease to move. Their bodies slow down until they resemble mannequins. They are fed, bathed, dressed, and carried through life like dolls.
When surrounded with death the undead often behave like the unliving. As though mimicking what may be arriving, they, unconscious, practice their final bows. Unable to lift a hand, chew a morsel, climb the stairs, they take on the contained nature of stones. Their eyes stop seeing, their tongues stop speaking, sometimes they make moans like cows.
Enter blue jay. Enter her white underpants and sky-blue coat. Enter her chattering, enter her aggression, enter her soot. When water was all the world, it’s said blue jay brought the dirt. When all the world is crying blue jay decides to build a house.
In the American south some say blue jay is never seen on Friday because on that day she is carrying a splinter of wood down to the Devil. It’s said loud blue jay badly misbehaved at Christ’s crucifixion, but what dreadful deed blue jay committed has since been long forgotten.
Blue jay takes up a baton and sits on a low branch. She taps the fog and begins to gesticulate the morbid band. When blue jay gestures to rise the strings belt up and wail. When blue jay tilts her wand down the church bells soften their peals.
In 2014 the Ivory Coast is swallowed by the color red. In 2014, a small country in Europe declares a terminally ill human of any age can ask for early death. In 2014 an airliner carrying 239 people, disappears. In 2014 hundreds of girls are abducted for going to school.
Tuberculosis has many names. Consumption, the King’s Evil, phthisis, the Robber of Youth, the white-plague. Death consumes, death kingly, death decays, death stealing young, death a pale horse, waltzing.
Enter crow. Of which there are more than thirty kinds. Three million crows to lend advice. Two thousand crows to trick and joke. One crow, one dove, to set out across the flooded world; but, only one battered, tired bird returns.
You know which one returns. What became of Noah’s crow?
Today in my backyard all the other crows decide if a crow will live or die. It’s kråkriksdag, crow’s parliament; today all crows come to court. They line the trees and judge. They stand, foot to head, each prepared to cast a rock. The accused crow, poor crow, has been condemned. Let him be torn apart. Let his fellow crows rake him, tear him, slice him open, stab him in the heart. After he is dead, let a dog be sent out, to carry his body to a garage, to lick at his last pieces.
An old Greek legend says that once the crow was white. Apollo’s glare scorched the white feathers black when a crow brought back the news that Apollo had an unfaithful wife.
Enter the messenger. Enter truth colored in anger and shadow. Enter the harsh bite of life finite, enter dismissive death, taking everything we once held dear and imparting strict: it is ash. It is naught but ash and crud and expiry. All things are me, all things come from me and bow to me.
All corvid minions, dance around. Dance around the mass graves hot. Dance the disease, dance the doubt, dance, dance, dance until all us drop. All ye corvids, sing and yell.
All things are death! All things are death! All things are death! The corvids sing.
First published in Headline Press for their Poets of the Pandemic series in 2020.