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CORVIDAE Poetry by

B. J. Buckley

B.J. Buckley’s poems in Corvidae are as sharp and wily as the birds she writes about—or through. Their voices screech and caw, but also rhyme and soothe, and the reader’s led into an entirely other magical world. “Beware the siren rush/ of wings,” the poet tells us, but it’s too late: we’re already loving these poems. Natasha Sajé, PhD, Dept. of English, Westminster College, curator of the Anne Newman Sutton Weeks Poetry Series, and author of Red Under the Skin, Bend, and Vivarium.

These poems do not prettify. Yet savage observations rely on exquisite turns: Beings, places—and language most of all. Dainis Hazners, old farmer, and author of The Adventures of Carlyle, My Imaginary Friend, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize.

Here is a poet who gets up close and very personal with birds. The poems, spare, sharp, and specific, take flight with endings that pack the punch of relevance, speak the truth of interconnectedness. Like our former poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, Buckley loves the one word line. The result is breathtaking. What is it like to live on earth and sky? Dreamers know, mystics know, birds know, and poets know. Thanks to B.J. Buckley for reminding us of our primordial roots, our silent songs. Joan Gelfand, author of The Long Blue Room, Benicia Literary Arts, and the forthcoming novel, Fear to Shred, due in 2015 from Incanto Press

CORVIDAE Poetry by

B. J. Buckley

Š2014 B. J. Buckley Š2014 Dawn Senior-Trask (wood cuts) All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN 978-1-929878-74-1 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 Printed in the United States of America

Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank the editors of the following journals, in which a number of these poems first appeared: About Place Journal, The Cruelest Month; American Arts Quarterly, Prayers for Little Children to Say Before They Sleep; CutThroat: A Journal of the Arts, A Game of Venery; Edgar Allen Poe Journal, Crow and St. Jerome; Ellipsis, Again, Ravens; Gusts to 50mph, with Deity; Mezzo Cammin, Rose, Raven: A Valentine; Visions International, Agnus Dei.


for Jane Wohl and Dainis Hazners, companions in the rookery Dawn Senior-Trask, for the beautiful woodcuts Steve Miller, who made the connection Tom Wheeler, friend and reader Art Anderson, who built the nest

and in gratitude for the fearful, antic, wise, and fascinating company of Crow (American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos) Raven (common raven, Corvus corax) Magpie (black billed magpie, Pica hudsonia) who allowed me to get closer to them than was entirely prudent for any of us




Introduction by Jane Wohl, PhD …viii

I. Raven Stealing Fire

woodcut by Dawn Senior-Trask

Cosmology (A Recipe) …3 Creation Story …4 Raven: Sui Generis …5 Crow …6 Magpie …8 Unreliable Narrators …9 Arctic Incursion …10 Prayer for Little Children to Say Before They Sleep …11 How Like an Angel …12 The Crow’s Carol …13 Crow: Holy Innocents …14 Magi …15 Rose, Raven: A Valentine …16 Magpie Haiku …17 Again, Ravens …18 Crow’s Valentine …20 Raven: Soliloquy …22

II. Button, Button, Who’s got the Button? woodcut by Dawn Senior-Trask

Piebald Valentine …27 Descartes, the Crow …28 Sciomancy: Fragments …30 Judas …34 “Remember That Thou Art Dust . . .” …35 Crow on Easter Morning …36


Contents (continued) Three Wicked Ditties …38 Trio: One Ditty More (Our Favorite Encore) …40 The Cruelest Month …41 Wireless …42 Cold Front, Spring …44 To the Little Suicides …45 Signs and Portents …46 Crow and St. Jerome …47 Zazen …48 “. . . And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” …50 Requiem: Ravens …51 Corvidae: Lamentations …52

III. Nesters

woodcut by Dawn Senior-Trask

Political …55 Agnus Dei …56 Ravens: Symposium …57 Crow and Bishop Berkeley …59 Stealing from the Dead …60 Hunter …61 A Game of Venery …62 Wrestlers …63 Archangel (Arkhangelsk) …64 Raven Quotes Rumi, with Commentary …65 Gusts to 50 mph, with Deity …66 Flash Mob …67 Raven: The Anatomy Lesson …68 The Good News …69 As the Crow Flies …70 Oral Histories …72 Crow’s Meditation on a Rainy Afternoon …74 Magpie: Pater Noster …75





“one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told” Even a quick glance at YouTube will provide a number of videos demonstrating crows’ ability to solve problems, as well as crows’ ability to play. My favorite shows a crow sliding down a snowy roof, flying to the top again, and repeating the slide. The crow is clearly having a great time, clearly playing. There is no other purpose apparent in the activity. It is simply play. Several summers ago my son rescued a magpie chick and raised it to adulthood. This magpie lived with my son for many months. The bird would fly into the cabin, notice that something was not in the place where it had been before, and the bird would then return the item to its previous place. The magpie, like all magpies, tended to hoard bits of shiny things. He was particularly interested in ice cubes, which he would stash under my son’s pillow, only to be perplexed when they were not there when he returned. Recently wildlife biologists have begun to understand the inter-species cooperation that seems to exist between wolves and ravens. Ravens, it seems, will find a carcass and then lead wolves to it. The birds know that they cannot get through the tough skin of an elk, but that once the wolves have gotten through the skin, and eaten their fill, they will leave enough meat for the ravens. Biologists have seen ravens fly down into the middle of a litter of wolf pups playing outside their den. The raven will begin to play with the pups, throwing sticks for them or letting the pups chase him. This interaction demonstrates an intelligence and curiosity that extends well beyond instinctive, rote behavior for finding food and shelter. Beyond these specific examples, the Corvids, whether crows, ravens, or magpies, have all played significant roles in world


folklore and myth. They are, by turns, bringers of wisdom, harbingers of both good and bad news, or tricksters who can aid a hero or unmask a villain. The rhyme at the beginning of this introduction is an Old English chant recited when seeing a flock of crows. The Norse god Odin had a raven as his companion, and the Haida of the American Pacific Northwest used ravens on their totem poles and created elaborate raven masks. These birds’ intelligence has both appealed to humans and has made humans slightly uncomfortable for millennia. B. J. Buckley’s poems in Corvidae allude to all these attributes and mythologies and more. Her birds connect with Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753), to Poe’s monosyllabic mourner, to the Old Testament Jacob wrestling with angels, to St. Jerome, to French poet Jacques Prevert. These poems pay tribute to many of the ways the Corvids have interacted with humans. She uses chants, rhymes, poetic forms, and free verse to create mythology that is both old and familiar and, at the same time, stunningly original. Her poems speak to a reverence for not only the birds themselves but that which is numinous in human experience. Reading these poems changes how we see these beautiful birds, and changes how we see the mystical and spiritual in our lives. These poems should be savored. They should be read aloud to appreciate Buckley’s use of sound, and they could easily be part of personal spiritual practice, read by candlelight or read outdoors where our Corvid relatives may hear them, too, and both laugh in their mocking way and participate in the mystical as they fly across an open sky. Jane Elkington Wohl, PhD




Cosmology (A Recipe) Bird Mother, penetrating Wind, her Egg, her Serpent coiled to cook it: Void for Nest. Hatched, eventually (its multiplicity of yolks uncountable – galaxy and galaxy and galaxy ad infinitum) and all sharp of wit and beak and eye, entirely devoid of mercy black-winged nebulae: Raven, Crow, that Holy Fool the Magpie: Trinity. And us? Dropped syllables, here and there: rags and bones and hanks of hair. (Not, my darlings, what you wished to hear?)


Creation Story These bodies are made of water and conspire with air to dethrone gravity, our silhouettes tear holes in sky, we are acrobats, the saints of Mesmer, and our flight reveals forgotten secrets – night against our ebony is the palest ghost. Through sinuous screens of branches lost in leaves our eyes – black candles burning. Hollowed and landless, we own heaven, all the angels and the guttering stars splash-spangled over vasty deeps of dark. In the chapels of our nests, little tombs, our eggs, dappled with shit and blood and breaking open, crack of worlds awakening in another naked guise: all mouth, all hunger, all devouring, all uncouth eager taking in and in – regurgitated with the lore of ages and digested – moth or worm gone liquid in the gizzard, rotting flesh, sweet vomited blizzards of nourishment – downy fuzz to brilliant scaly feathers giving way, buzz of intellect sparking in us, we cast bones to know the future, first and last, infinite litany of shadows and of flame: each flickering glyph, a letter of our Name.


Raven: Sui Generis No thing out of Nothing. Molecular feathering: Black wing, an orbit, that planet of an eye. The Infinite wind. First breathing. Sky.


Crow Crow his own Shadow. Shadow outdone by dark feathers blue-black night-heaven without stars. The black eyes shining sucking light in, giving a little back. Shadow slow path along the ground grey only, blue only a whisper – Black cloud thing: Altering its flow as water around/ over obstacles Crow gives way.


The covert wings against air audible, Shadow silent as the grave: Crow graven against the air, dark stone, voice ripping sky as if stiff cloth – a parting seam. Shadow insubstantial – black portent in the breast: trapped blood in a bone-barred cage.


Magpie Magpie infernally multiple, gangster-gaggle in a poplar snag, long liver, egg sucker, eater of eyes, murderer of unfledged nestlings, carrion cleaner of our own assorted homicides – deer, dog, feral cats, porcupine, never mind, hardly a blood trace left by the next afternoon – glorious harlequin Magpie, coal snow burnt ash night moon examiner, and us except as surfeit flesh found wanting.


Unreliable Narrators These Ravens, spread as dark ink over bare branches, croaking stories – there’s always blood in them, death, last night or this morning, pitch black star-cracked – and the yip, the howling – or false dawn in ice fog something swift rattling invisible through the frozen reeds: sudden cut off childlike scream. And their own gourmet decorum (the sweetbreads, the eyes) as late-comers to the feast, and they never tire of talking, stutter and fragment, their murderous language a wall of broken stone abutting silence: the bodies, the void, the bent bleached grass of winter fields.


Arctic Incursion Below zero, killing wind: Two Ravens cling to a high bare limb, spread the defiant black sails of their wings, furl them, over and over again. How good the absence of the chattering rabble! – deep woods emptied by this grave gale and left to their patient and solitary keeping. Good, good! Frost-cracked cackle from the frigid heights. That late-born fawn who stumbled in the drifts – meat enough for dark birds feasting when the wind dies, and the night comes, and the cold spills out of the stars. Good!


Prayer for Little Children to Say Before They Sleep Winter sentinel, charred arm of sky, Raven, blanket me if I should die. When from my entrails you make your choice, Magpie, be merciful – swallow my voice. Crow, if you love me, peck out my eyes: Dark vision dark-winged, you, and I.


How Like an Angel The shimmering Raven keeps her long watch from the stair-steep pitch of the pines, daylong, nightlong, her cracked bone of a song shattering dark and light with notes which lesser creatures might take for warning – or rejoicing – she has so many voices – no one except, maybe, God, knows the mind of a Raven. Winds flow from her feathers, black rivers pool in her glance, and the other divers – hawk, owl, eagle – pay her coin of carrion, though she’ll purloin what she wants, anyway: life and death are both her holiday.


The Crow’s Carol Bloody birth in dirt and straw, A star burns cold and a wind blows raw, The black-winged choir sings croak and caw, Alleluia! Caul and cord a feast for dogs, Sheep and shepherds lost in fog, Plagues of serpents, rains of frogs, Alleluia! Bitter milk from a girl-child’s breast, Grave-gifts from the wise men’s chest: Gold, and myrrh, and frankincense, Alleluia! The moon’s a hearth that gives no heat, Our only alms are coins of sleet, And the wind in the pines is a winding sheet, Alleluia! Joy, for resurrection’s task, Blood and Body our repast, The Dark, The Light made one at last, Alleluia!


Crow: Holy Innocents Light slices through the windbreak, bloody knife. Snow stained crimson. Something did not go hungry: say butchery, say abattoir – I say life eats, and lives. Swift tracks lead northwest across the stubble. Moon buried in the river like a stillborn child.


Magi Christmas morning, clear sky washed with gold, with crimson, bright ecstasies of the nearest star. Three crows are searching the windbreak, visiting abandoned nests, as if despite winter there might be eggs, or a nestling new-hatched, unguarded. No wind-worn little pile of sticks and woven grass left unexamined – finch or warbler, blackbird, sparrow, oriole, robin, wren – the dark kings of this cold season traveled far and long, and in each emptiness one leaves a gift: scrap of foil, orange strand of baling twine, silk ribbon, penny: they bless an absence spring will fill for them to overflowing. Then they chatter on, faithful in procession through the honey locust, Russian olive, pine: the little birds have gone so great a distance, it might as well be Egypt. Crow and crow and crow will pause to feast on barley scattered in the stubble, drink snowmelt, rest their wings: fly further east.


Rose, Raven: A Valentine Rose, Raven, Raven, rose – bright petals lying soft on snow, snow white, rose red, black raven, and the deer not dead an hour, struck by a car, and the wind crying. Bright drops the shape of scattered petals lying across the heaped berm, where the deer leapt and lost – crimson, scarlet, rose, a clear vermilion. And Raven, dark as forged metal glinting in the sun: Black wing, talon thorn, and the deer’s belly full open like a blown rose at the end of autumn: petals thrown profligate to the wind, and its red heart torn.


Magpie Haiku Stark convocation, decay’s bell chiming: Blizzard, the faltering deer. Black and white: no gray areas for you! If it’s dead, sure, it’s dinner. Nihilist Magpies: dead deer, dead muskrat, dead owl – all food for dark thought. Howling wind, rain squalls – Magpies carrying twigs for nests towards bare alders. Dear God, such a noise! – Rackety, rackety! – Ten Magpies, arguing. My cat’s got your tongue – arrogance got the better of you, poor Magpie.


Again, Ravens Wolf birds, pack not flock. Ravaging the carcass of a doe, fawn-form in her belly. Death’s mathematicians, their abacus: blood’s delicate beady slide down bars of bone. Ruin, Raven. Rune-raven, tracks over grass-frost green as spring.


Ferocious, because. If dark were a skin with scars. Ligament, the long bones, muscle’s scarlet thread. If that voice – fractured. Oh, scavengers: heavy saints tapping inside us. Razor-quick beak, the heart.


Crow’s Valentine We are the killers with beautiful hands. Don’t you think of our talons as tiny fingernails, brilliant moon-lush vampire manicure? Of our toes as exquisitely delicate digits, greedily gore-lily gluttonous graceful? Oh, watch as our beaks pierce an egg – pearly sky dome a shell broken yellow by sun trailing tendrils of bloodred glory along horizon’s knife edge.


We are beautiful entire, cloaked in cobalt feather fire! Love is all arrows, so why court sorrow? Death is not cold, it is soft and as warm as a bird-breast cradled in curve of your palm – we would slay you so sweetly with kisses.


Raven: Soliloquy None of you see. Wingwet in unseasonable downpour and you don’t think Bird. Garbage bag fence-snagged, ragtag bedraggled remnant my eye on you how can you not shiver? I know you in your viscera. The marrow of you – delicacy – once wolf cracks the bones. Hunger Moon, until this thaw, the drifts white glass no hammer of a heart could break.


Why else would you imagine I’d be waiting? Most constant lover. Bare branches casting webs of shadow – low ceiling. Sky. The rain a steady patter on the frozen snow. Meltwater whisper. All of you – chasing Darkness. Catch me if you can.

CORVIDAE Poetry by

B. J. Buckley These poems pay tribute to many of the ways the Corvids have interacted with humans. B.J. Buckley uses chants, rhymes, poetic forms, and free verse to create mythology that is both old and familiar and, at the same time, stunningly original. Her poems speak to a reverence for not only the birds themselves but that which is numinous in human experience. Jane Elkington Wohl, PhD, Professor of English, Sheridan College, and Goddard College MFA Program, author of Triage and Beasts in Snow, which won the Willa Award from Women Writing the West.

* * *

The crow family is endlessly fascinating, and so is B.J.’s book. It flies into that heart of darkness Ted Hughes also explored and comes out with many equally bright shiny things. Prof. Bradley R. Strahan, editor, Visions International, and author of Crocodile Man, This Art of Losing, and A Parting Glass.

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