Sandy Shreve
Paintings, Photo Art, Poetry

Blog - Wednesday Poems

(posted on 5 Jun 2024)


There have been too many funerals in my life lately. But they reminded me of my poem, “Crows”, from my book Suddenly, So Much (Exile Editions). It feels right to make it this week’s Wednesday Poem, in part because of the story behind it. (The image here is another of the poetry postcards I talked about in my May 15 post.) Here’s an excerpt from my longer post about this poem, published in 2013, in Ooligan Books’ Alive at the Centre Where Poems Begin blog:

“Crows” began with a chance encounter on my way home from work one overcast February afternoon in 1998.  An older man walking ahead of me slowed to a saunter as I approached, as if waiting for me to catch up to him.  When I did, he peered at me from under his nondescript cap and pointed to a couple of vacant lots beside us, asking if I’d noticed there were more crows around than usual.  “Not really,” I confessed, looking at what seemed a rather normal number pecking at the ground.  Then he told me how hundreds upon hundreds had arrived earlier that day, covering the field, the trees, the street – and then took off, darkening the sky.  “I think they came for my neighbour,” he said, nodding at an old house across the way.  “She died last night.”  A little farther on, he explained that when we die, crows come to escort our souls to heaven; how he hoped, when the time came, they’d show him the way, too.  A few paces later, he turned off the path and I continued on my way.  But the man and his words stayed with me.

I’ve long been fond of crows.  Growing up in New Brunswick, I’d often wake to their boisterous heckling across the Tantramar Marsh.  Others were annoyed by the ‘noise’ but I heard the possibilities for a new day in those voices.  Yet I’d never written about them; at most, crows made a passing appearance in a few of my poems.  While I knew about and admired their intelligence, I’d never read up on what they might stand for in world cultures or religions.  Given what the man I’d met earlier in the day had said, I realized I needed to look into this, so I turned to one of my favourite reference books – Barbara G. Walker’s The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (Harper and Rowe, 1988) – and read every crow entry.  From Walker I learned, among other things, that to the Roman ear the crow’s call sounded like their word for tomorrow – and so, to them, this bird was “a symbol of the future”.

With Walker’s information, my own enchantment with crows, their generally bad reputation (as messy, as loud, as bullies and thieves) and one man’s comment about crows and our souls, all at the back of my mind, I picked up my pen …