Crow Child

Sparrows squat for a dust-bath
outside Alpha Video, near the cool shade
of a hacked shrub and three kinds of weed.

The Crow Child drags its beak (sideways,
head tilted, nostrils foremost) through the bird-bath,
trolling for softened bread-crusts left by its loud
and unremittingly instructive parents.

From below, near the base of the trunk,
the silver maple in Trinity Park
could be a green brain.
Delicious—the air
above the great branches, under the leaves!

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Crow Child”?

This poem was inspired by observations of wildlife around Vancouver. Alpha Video is on Commercial Drive, near my neighbourhood of Nanaimo and McGill in east Vancouver. The crow child (there’s a freeway called Crowchild Trail in Calgary, where I once lived) was in our front yard. And Trinity Park is on Wall Street a couple of blocks from my house, overlooking the Port of Vancouver. (Trinity Park was in the movie “Double Happiness,” starring Sandra Oh. It’s great to see your neighbourhood in a movie, even as you realize how fast everything changes. But the silver maple is still there, in 2009.) I try to document and give a true account of the world, so the poems are grounded in observed reality as much as possible. This is the practice of the great Chinese Japanese and Chinese poets who have influenced me, men like Issa, Basho, Li Po, and Tu Fu. Many of the poems in the “East Van” section of my third book Green Man, where this poem appears, are written in the spirit of these masters.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Crow Child”?

The poem, like a haiku, begins in clear descriptive statement. At the end, it attempts to universalize, from the particular observations of one place and time, to a larger understanding, an expansion of the senses and awareness. The reader moves, from the lawn of a small municipal park, into a state where her brain and the tree seem to inhabit one another and become one living thing. The technique used is sensual imagery: first the visual picture of the tree, which is roughly brain-shaped, with the trunk the spine, and then the reader looks up, into this great sheltered space, and enters it in her imagination. She imagines the scent of the air exhaled by the leaves fifty feet above the ground. If the poem works, the reader has briefly escaped the prison of her preoccupations, and has entered a leafy space of air and light, free of care. Maybe, from this position, she can look at the world in a different way. Maybe she can think like a mountain.

This poem “Crow Child” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 154 (Autumn 1997): 91-91.

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