Jared Carter


Old Crow - Poem by Jared Carter

Every summer we went to the city park
for the family reunion, every August
we congregated as a clan, arriving
in that place of enormous old trees—
hackberry, sycamore, chestnut, oak.
Our mothers would set platters of food
on the long wooden tables, our fathers
would go off to play horseshoes and smoke
cigars—

and all the children would go
running past the merry-go-rounds and slides,
past the maypoles, running, running
through the dappled shade of the trees,
gazing up high toward sparrows startled
by our frenzied shouting, until we came
by process of elimination and much
screaming, to the tree holding the crow,
the mysterious being name Samson—
whose tongue had been split by a gypsy,
years ago, and who deigned to speak
to mortals who offered gifts. We stood,
watching, while he descended from branch
to branch, grasping with beak and claws,
dropping down, coming ever closer while
we spread out our morsels of stale bread
and cake—

children hushed and giggling,
since the other birds scatter and flee,
and this one comes closer, as it did
last year and the year before - this legend
that lives in the park, and is afraid
of nothing—progressing slowly, making
its way finally to the planks of the table
reserved exclusively for his presence.
We stare while he lands, and begins
to walk up and down, nosing among
the treats, occasionally seizing this morsel
or that, gobbling, throwing back his head—
"Samson, " calls my oldest cousin,
who has been here before—

like the time
his brothers, his uncles, all of them
immeasurably drunk, on a Fourth of July
or a Labor Day picnic, bellowed up
into the tree like a pack of hounds—
"Samson, tell us if the world is round
or flat? "

And the stiff-legged creature,
glossy and brown in the sunlight, stands
stock still, its yellow eyes blazing—
"Round as a skull, round as a skull! "
it croaks, and begins to peck among
the bits of bread. At the sandpaper sound
of its voice, the smaller children try
to run away, but we hold them fast.
The cousin calls again, "Give us a sign,
Samson, give us a sign! "

The animal
halts suddenly, as though half listening,
hearing this voice, perhaps, or another,
high in the trees - "Sign of the snake,
sign of the snake! " it barks out, and
we all scatter, run away, fall down,
get up again - laughing, tumbling
over each other—

while Samson flaps
his ragged wings and rises in slow motion
to the nearest branch and settles there,
scolding us, calling blasphemies down
on our heads, explaining that two pair
beat three of a kind, screaming for
the Pope's head on a platter, calling out
to no one in particular, since not one
of us has remained behind to listen—
"A moment more, give me a moment more! "


First published in Polyphony.

Topic(s) of this poem: animals, children, family life, mystery

Form: Free Verse


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, May 18, 2017



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