2 September 2010 | Vol. 10, No. 3
Ravens at Tamalpais
Bald white trunk & dead black bark, toc-toc. Small shrugs
in long black coats, their stripped pine whipping at the skyline…
swiftly unveiled, in twos and threes, ravens and the ideas
of ravens drip down onto the air, black silk scarves
pulling each other through the silk blue sleeves
in a wintry sky & out into the mind's eye to stall and dip,
nip at tail feathers, roll and dive, flip, spin, fold up
and fall, one thing after another in that sleight of hand
to alight again, pinned to their pine towering above the bay
and the smashed hat of Alcatraz. Turn my cold face to your sun.
Alarm calls, chase calls, flight calls, wing whistles,
bill snaps—and among their clacking & clicks
comes a mimicry of our ceaseless human speech, talk talk
they have captured on the wind, on the wing,
and as the far white city sinks back into its fog
they speak for us in lost languages, confused tongues.
The 'alala of Hawai'i, extinct in the wild, live only
in cages now, and the Pied Raven of the Faroe Islands
parade as museum stiffs, yet here, these ancients blown down
& off course & away from ancestors in ice age Asia
swirling in a blizzard rage two million years gone, these strong
settled Tamalpais long before the word arrived.
In Sweden they were glass-bottomed boats, airy ghosts
of the newly murdered dead, while in Denmark they fed
on the hearts of kings and still could read thoughts of men
before men themselves could think them.
Within the eye of slaughter, the raven's eloquence.
And who will love me when I'm gone?
Ravens will call coyotes and wolves to the work,
to tear open the carcass for shaggy birds to feed upon.
A raven forgets nothing and is a most skillful thief
who brings away the shining and the bright,
black-eyed poets stealing each other's buried cache and
flying farther and faster to hide what was stolen.
A raven showed Adam how to scrape the dirt for Abel,
and yet I have slept as ravens slid down steep banks of snow
to take off again into the dizzying loops of their delight.
I have slept as the sacred spies of Odin, his eyes and ears, his ill
memory and blunt mind, flitted down to swallow anything at all.
Bird of Prophecy, Bringer of Fire, Protector of the Tower,
Groom of the Daughter of the Fog whose soft touch
on ocean's hair will lure salmon to leap into the boat:
if I step up now to that highest trail's edge and slip
off and flap my puny nightmare wings and cry out
in the long fall, then you will hold me in the last dark
of your glance, fly to me, cure me, take out my eyes. Toc-toc.
Your mother swallowed the white stone, smooth as an egg.
Toc-toc. Your cry is the knock at my coffin door.
About the author:
Gregory Donovan is Senior Editor of the online journal Blackbird and author of the poetry collection Calling His Children Home, winner of the Devins Award, as well as poetry, essays, and fiction published in the Kenyon Review, the Southern Review, New England Review, Chautauqua, storySouth, MiPOesias, the Southern Quarterly, and elsewhere. He teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University, and helped establish its study abroad programs in Scotland and in Peru.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Gregory Donovan at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 10, No. 3, where "Ravens at Tamalpais" ran on September 2, 2010. List other work with these same labels: poetry.