My mother told many stories
Of life on the farm,
Chapters we would ask for on certain nights
Over coffee—
Her father’s workhorses;
The time her chestnut mare bolted;
The two week blizzard and the broken sleigh;
My grandmother’s mysterious lapse into paralysis
And the operation that made it worse;
The sweat-soaked hired men at harvest time
Covered with chaff and drinking
From jugs of vinegar and honey called switchel;
And, my favorite, when her father
Gave her little brother a baby crow.

Jim kept it in his room at first
In a box beneath his bed.
By July it was sitting on his shoulder
And pecking pie crust from his palm.
Their mischief fed off each other.
Jim getting it to swoop and caw through the kitchen.

After that Jim’s crow lived outside,
Roosting in a maple by his window,
Screeching on his sill as the days grew short.
But the day after the winter’s first snow it disappeared
And Jim wandered long days, bereft,
The only birds he could close on
Were flocks of starlings wheeling in the dusk.

Did he cry? I would ask my mother.
For a while, she would reply.
But I knew better.
I could see it in Uncle Jim’s grey eyes,
So intense and faraway,
He still scanned the sky.