A Crow’s Eyes by John Dowell

In between two buildings, 
in a fenced off area, I notice a rare thing around here: grass gone 
to seed. The tossing grain heads bring to mind wild horses on the Sierra. I love how their movements are both random and in 
unison, as if each silken stem conducts its own symphony, but in the same timing. The guards don’t like that sort of chaos and 
make us chop growth before it gets that far and triggers a 
startling recollection
of walking through timothy 
up to your waist. The sticky fingers of grasshoppers 
fly at your arms held out to the sides over 
the coarse tips. The sweet smells of life in the humid 
white air. Buzzing all around of horseflies, green flies 
and majestic purple dragonflies. Rabbits rustle 
and copperheads slither silent. Bobwhites ask 
what’s next, what’s next: a dip in the pond or a run 
down the sled hill and the feeling of flight. It’s a stark 
contrast to this
place of slow death 
behind the wall. It takes an act of will and 
consistent effort against the weight of the place. 
Where time layers up like the sides of a canyon: 
the sediment of bureaucracy and the laws formed 
from rumor and prejudice; the limestone of the dead 
before their time; the schist of the averted eye; 
the shale of fear-selling politicians 
making their careers with their war on crime. 
To fight the malaise,
I notice as much as I can: 
a family of chipping sparrows has been dropping by 
for the leavings of men feeding pigeons. At first 
it’s just a few chippies. I watch from August 
to October as the family grows to twenty hoppers 
among the huge plodding pigeons. A close look 
reveals grasshoppers disguised as sand and lethargic 
as rock. I notice a pair of bronze-headed cowbirds ―long 
sleek and black with a hint of green in the sun. 
They sneak elegantly about like little spies. 
Each of these creatures is a door
to my old world. 
I can smell the kelp beds 
as I wait for a wave in freezing Santa Cruz surf 
and a sea otter glides by on his back 
knocking a shellfish against a rock on his belly. 
Yesterday I was in the cell
of an old native, 
looking at his latest gorgeous oil painting of a horse 
and rider at dusk on a desolate snowy landscape. 
He looked at me with a crow’s eyes, pointed 
to his temple and said, I have a life sentence, but this 
they can’t lock up.
error: This content is copyright protected.
%d bloggers like this: