by Kurt Luchs
She tried to teach me to hunt, the gray tabby
who appeared on our doorstep one day and never left.
Confident and self-contained, the essence of cathood,
she took pity on this child wandering the asylum grounds,
never sure where he stood with the other inmates
and always waiting for the next blow to fall.
She seemed made for our household, being impervious
to random screams and bellows of Marine Corps profanity.
Her response to all threats of domestic violence
was to silently dissolve into the vacant fields around us
and set to work tracking as if there was a bounty
on every stray rodent in town.
Her patience was boundless, though I was useless
in summer and not much better in winter.
At least after a snowfall I could see their tiny footprints
with the occasional swish of a tail between, like a signature
by Degas, and sometimes I would even spot a glimpse
of them disappearing into their hidey holes,
but I never came close to capturing one.
Boodina did, coolly, cleanly, without any visible excitement,
like a ping pong master holding a book in one hand
and a paddle in the other, not glancing up
as she batted them back and forth while stifling a yawn.
That was how I learned to catch mice at age six or seven,
and also that I never would catch any,
and that catching them was not the point.
The hunt was the thing, sniffing scents on the wind,
the glint of the cold winter sun, the crunch of snow,
the feel of dead brown grass in the hand and underfoot,
and every now and then, the sign of our elusive prey
leading us ever forward into fresh mysteries together.
Edgar Allan Crow
A farmer’s wife in West Chicago found you
starving, wings broken, barely alive,
a baby crow without a future,
and brought you into the barn to try
to nurse you back to something resembling health.
As you ate and gained strength day by day
your marvelous gift for mimicry emerged.
Your tiny crow voice learned to imitate
cows, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, cats and dogs
with hilarious accuracy, eventually causing
no end of confusion for the farmer and his wife.
And that’s how you came to us, still broken
but now with a vaudeville act to earn your keep.
Though we had no farm, we did have
chickens and geese and cats and dogs in abundance.
We named you after the poet
and taught you to say “Nevermore.”
The Willowbrook Wildlife Sanctuary
clipped and set your wings, which kept you
flightless until you were tame and acclimated to a cage.
You adorably called them “Brookwillow,”
getting the syllables right but the order wrong.
We understood: English was not your first language.
You deeply resented sharing your cage
with the chickens, considering them little more
than vegetables with beaks.
You would throw the rooster’s morning cry
back at him with an audible sneer.
When you could finally fly, sometimes you’d swoop
down and peck him on his idiot head.
We’d reach through the wire to pet you
until you purred like a cat,
blinking slowly with your sky-blue inner eyelids.
After our baby sister was born
you added the wail of a miniature human
to your repertoire of voices.
“Somebody check the baby!” our mother would yell.
“It’s Edgar,” we sighed in reply.
You learned to imitate her as well,
fooling us many times with your rendition
of her favorite phrase, “Shut the door!”
“It is shut!” we screamed.
She would sigh, “That was Edgar.”
You appeared to prefer captivity.
If we left the cage door open
you never once ventured outside.
It seemed an idyllic life.
And then, as it usually does, love spoiled everything.
A lady crow we named Claw came to roost
in the maple tree overlooking your cage.
Her wiles were many. She used them all,
turning you against us.
One day we left the cage door open
and you flew up to her branch
and suddenly it was all over.
From that moment forward you took us
for enemies, the two of you following us
wherever we went, hurling abuse upon us
as you flew from tree to tree, as if to say,
“These are the ones! The torturers,
the cagers of crows, the brutalizers of birds!
Do not let them forget their crimes!”
We were happy for you, honestly we were,
but now we were the broken ones.
This went on for years, perhaps a decade.
At some point we realized that one of you
had died, the duet of diatribes
had become a single voice again,
though you’d grown so close to each other
we couldn’t tell which one had perished
and which was still alive with solitary fury.
That hurt more than anything.
Then it was, our wayward echoer Edgar,
that we too learned to say, “Nevermore.”