The hollow field, stripped of corn and stalks,
is carpeted by dozens of them. When a car passes,
they all take flight at once, a black cloud against
October's sharp blue sky. I'm told they have
two languages. One, the familiar social call,
the caw-caw announcing: I am here.
The other is quieter. A low chirping spoken
only in the family nest, nothing meant for outsiders.
I ride the elevators with my sister, who is dying
and needs new lungs. The hospital is enormous,
a hollow concrete box that towers dozens of stories
into the sky, digs dozens of stories below.
We travel from floor to floor, lab to lab,
doctor to doctor. Everyone measures something
but no one makes any promises.
In this, they are all very precise.
When a crow dies, others will gather
in a tree above the dead. No language here,
only silent observation, a voiceless wake.
When it's time, each bird will know
to fly off alone.
My sister doesn't say anything after the last
appointment, just finds me reading in
the waiting room and says, "let's go home."
The list, it seems, is not for her. The line for
a new set of lungs is long, and her body
is starved for oxygen. We don't speak
on the drive back.
A murder of crows. Such a menacing name
for these intelligent birds. Studies show
they possess long-term memory, are
intelligent as a typical three-year-old.
When I was a boy, a neighbor kept one
as a pet. It loved shiny things, would fly
down to snatch up a foil gum wrapper or
a lost ring, anything that glinted in the sun,
caught the light in a way that made it radiant.
We sit, silent, in the living room as
the television rambles and the cats
seek out the last of the late day sun.
Silence is the secret language in our family,
the long gaps between what we can
and cannot say. She dozes under a heavy quilt
as I stare out the picture window, then
get up slowly, and walk away.
William Reichard is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Sin Eater (2010) and This Brightness (2007) both from Mid-List Press. He is the editor of the anthology American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice (New Village Press, 2011). He lives in Saint Paul, MN.