Book of Crow


I. Crow Choral

Grieves and a weep weep weep –
        Crow in a glut of sweets.

Graves and a knock knock knock –
        Crow in a kiss of hemlock.

Ghosts and a growl growl growl –
        Crow in a rot of bacchanal.


Weep and a grieve –
Knock and a grave –
Growl and a ghost –
        Crow in a vowel of boast boast boast

II. Calling Crow

The doorway to Crow is 3 AM.
The pathway to Crow is fear.
Kaw caw craw –
        Straight away summons him.

III. Recognizing Crow

Crow chortles in the battlefield.
Crow traffics in poppies.
Crow shrieks in the millions,
        spackles the land with offal,
        wears the guise of grackle.

Guard well your fledgling hopes –
        Crow wants to eat their shine.

He is the long-tailed crackle and drag.
He is the gold-eyed death coins.
He is the purpled raiment glistening with tears.

Crow is putrefaction perfected,
        here to set you up for the okie-doke –
Grieves and a weep weep weep

IV. Wards against Crow (ineffectual)

Powerlines are overcrowed with psychopomps,
those gluttons of the sweetness
        we can’t help but

Graves and a kaw caw kraw –
        Crow in a copse of hysterics!

Draw your circles of salt.
Raise up your crucifix.
Shine the gift of kindness.

Salt, crucifix, kindness –
        Crow crushes them all.

V. Crow Visitation

He played a little game,
the two of us under my sheets.
My foot, he took
                   (only that!)
All my toes bent down,
piggies at worship.
My arch constricted and my sole
                   (my soul!)
fell thrall to the King of Crows.
Oh, he gave me a real crowfoot,
both nexus and crux
                   (exquisite pain!)

                   Cruel Crow was anything but urbane.

VI. Crow in Poetry

It was he who
        had the crow’s eye view
        of the rough beast.

It was he who
        scattered the white chickens,
        spilled the barrow of life.

It was he who
        fanned the panic,
        laid-low Lady Lazarus.

Now I concede this line-up is a put on,
but I’d bet stars to rats
it was Crow who
gave you the old okie-doke,
        you know
                graves and a knock knock knock –

Tell me Leda,
        are you sure it was a swan?

VII. Compassion of Crow

Motherless boys are
        the ultimate
        knowers of death.

They weep and knock and growl.

Loss traps them.
Slugs in a pan of beer –
                     drowning –
until Crow sips away
their memories of her.

VIII. Crow Action/Reaction

Crow flapped his wings –
        a string of dark stars fell.

Crow opened his beak –
        time devoured eternity.

Crow flew in the cracks of soul –
        dirge was born.

IX. Joining Crow

This morning I woke to a squall
        of rats and motherless boys.
I fed them sweets.

This morning I woke to a tornado
        of crowfeet and psychopomps.
I fed them hemlock.

This morning I woke to a siren
        of poppies and put-ons.
I joined their bacchanal,
        and we sang
        and we danced
        and we lived

Ashes to Crow, Dust to Crow –
                we all fall

June 2016


Images Courtesy of George Hodan

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8 thoughts on “Book of Crow

  1. Bravo, Josephine! When I read the first poem, not knowing what to expect, I literally laughed out loud. Then, continuing to read, I fell into rapt attention, still tickled to death but with amazement taking over at the no frills brilliance and the hard-beak sharpness of individual lines. Delightfully wicked poems. I love them. Great lines, but not too many, wisely not overplaying your hand.

    The most striking thing to me about these poems, the tour de force, is that their binding agent, the magical vehicle which carries the venom of the curse is: innocence. The most fatal sting would be delivered when the victim has entirely let his or her guard down, and what better way than through innocence? You have captured in your lines the very rhythm and intelligence of the Crow, delivering the curses like nursery-rhymes.

    P.S. Have you seen the movie “The Witch” which recently came out (in 2015), by director Robert Eggers? If not I highly recommend it to you. Absolutely wonderful treatment of the archetype. Not unlike how you write your poems, Eggers handles it with great skill and restraint, only showing as much as is needed, building tension in the hidden, avoiding all the silly supernaturalism stereotypes, and returns the archetype to its original power.


    1. John, hello – thank you for the comments and praise! I think your term, “deliciously wicked” is an apt summation of the sequence. I was specially pained by Compassion of Crow, which shocked me with its slug/grief imagery and Crow’s “compassionate” response.

      The nursery rhyme sing-song quality was a surprise, but it felt natural and true. I liked the way the sequence feels like it is caught in a closed jar, bouncing around and mixing and reverberating one part to another. My rational mind is not capable of planning an effect like that, and I am grateful my subconscious could be the conduit.

      I have not seen The Witch, but have heard from several people that it was quite good. I’ve also heard from some who felt that it was too slow to start, but I’m okay with a slow start, as long as the atmosphere is sufficient to sustain the wait. The Babadook is another recent movie that reminds me of the archetype of Crow, and you have not seen that movie, I recommend it.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your appreciation for Book of Crow.


      1. This is definitely there, Josephine – as you wrote: “the sequence feels like it is caught in a closed jar, bouncing around and mixing and reverberating one part to another.” That is a great strength of this book of poems. That kind of circuitry generates an energy which lifts out of itself, pointing to something beyond itself. I suppose anyone with occult tendencies in their work aim for precisely that: signs which draw energy and generate energy among themselves, and are lifted up and can be read like constellations in the sky.

        I have seen The Babadook. Wonderful movie. I really enjoyed it. I’ve watched many movies on the darker side of life. I imagine you have too. The Witch is fascinating as a psychological study of initiation. Don’t let the slow pacing deter you. The director handled it with the appropriate pace. I think The Witch will be personally intriguing to you because the signs in it do precisely what those signs do in your book of Crow poems here. The connections are surprising, “bouncing around and mixing and reverberating one part to another”, something hidden connects with something seen and a circuit is established. For me The Witch is a deeply satisfying movie. At the end I was like, “Wow – profound, exhilarating, chilling: just awesome.”


      2. Oh, yes, horror movies are my favorite. Each year, I dedicate the month of October to watching at least one horror movie a week. I also prefer dark fiction – especially when the darkness arises organically from the subject matter, and is not contrived. Elena Ferrante has won my heart with her dark tomes. Same with Shirley Jackson. If you’ve never read Jackson’s Hangsaman, I can’t recommend it more highly.

        Thank you, John, for making sure The Witch is on my list.


  2. Just beautiful. I lack the knowledge to analyse this poem, how it’s constructed and its different elements – but, like many people, I know poetry for the effect it has on me. And this poem has that effect.


    1. I am similar, Mari, in that any work of art reaches me by connecting with what lies beneath my rationality. I refer to the sensation as the piece having “heat.” In his massive poetic analysis, The White Goddess, Robert Graves describes a true poem’s effect thus:

      The test of a poet’s vision, one might say, is the
      accuracy of his portrayal of the White Goddess and of the island over
      which she rules. The reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water,
      the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine
      when one writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily an
      invocation of the White Goddess, or Muse, the Mother of All Living, the
      ancient power of fright and lust—the female spider or the queen-bee
      whose embrace is death.

      By this definition, I have found true poems in prose, in music, in paintings, and in the texture of dreams.

      Thank you for reading Book of Crow, Mari!


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