Crow, My Friend
The crow I knew well enough to receive presents from, shrugged with ennui at the neighbours’ sonic traps. Unconvincing mechanical broadcasts of crowhen caws in breeding season. The neighbours hated his moulted feathers, raged at his cynical shitting on their backyard. His guano was fuelled by the nuts and cat kibble I fed him by the trowelful. We knew they planned an endgame with crushed plumage and bloodied guts. They never had their win. I fed him for the presents of crazed creativity he airdropped: the feathered fish-hook like a damselfly, the platinum screw from an aristo’s sit-in trainset, the brass clasp from a child’s Chinese casket. I could go on. The cat could not compete with the gist of these gifts. Dead mice and sparrows, old bones, the sort of present the cat herself would like to receive, littered my doorstep to no avail. The crow delivered treasures he had no use for. No twigs or worms, snails or berries; he devised presents from crafty observations of my likings. He grasped the manipulative genius of empathy. This went on for more years than I thought a crow could live. Over time we swapped our songs between exchanges of food and trinkets. I read to him from Mahon’s The Hunt by Night. He garbled a huge range of ticks and caws, burbling and cooing, expounding his mysterious corvid dialectics with a satisfaction as if he believed I understood. It couldn’t last forever. The winter he disappeared he left me a letter in the shallow snow. Claw prints, in patterns as complex as avian cuneiform. I failed to photograph it before the thaw.
Patrick Cotter’s poems have appeared in The Financial Times, The London Review of Books, Poetry (Chicago), Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Keats-Shelly Poetry Award. Sonic White Poise, his third full collection was published by the Dedalus Press, Dublin in 2021. More at www.patrickcotter.ie.
I admit, I don't fully understand the intricacies, but I believe there exist parallel to this poem an infinite number of other poems twisting and turning in inconceivable ways. In one, for instance, politicians of opposite civil faiths dine together and come to reasonable compromises to benefit a large majority of their constituents. In another, instead of bones and meat and blood and systems, the people there are filled with a harsh, dry wind—stray autumn leaves scraping through their chests when they breathe. There is a poem in which your lover has not left you. You still enjoy sitting together on the porch each morning, sipping black coffee and taking in the expanse of the mountain view. Just as there is a poem in which your lover is dying, and you perch like Lady Margaret at his bedside and puzzle together a future you’ll never want. There are thousands of poems ruled over by benevolent magicians and just as many in which silence is the prime form of language and words are what get said to avoid having to actually say anything. And what of you and me? It seems we are bound exclusively to this poem. Where the air smells like the air of your present location, the coffee has stained my teeth more than I care to admit, and our pets continue to love us as long as the food appears in the bowl at regular intervals each day.
Justin Hamm is the author of four collections of poetry—Drinking Guinness with the Dead, The Inheritance, American Ephemeral, and Lessons in Ruin—as well as two poetry chapbooks. His poems, stories, photos, and reviews have appeared in Nimrod, River Styx, Southern Indiana Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and Sugar House Review.
I step outside for a smoke and end up thinking about the blackness on all the statues. That building across the way used to be a five-and-dime. An old woman in a ragged coat scrambles over the rubble like one of God’s angel couriers on a mysterious mission. Then my phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s a number I don’t recognize. I live in fear of losing my crap job and never finding another one near as good.
There was a time I thought that, like Auden, I would belong to myself one day. Like him, I would attend events in slippers, a rope holding up my pants. If anyone asked me anything, I would smile enigmatically or answer as the poet might, in language disproportionate to the task. Instead, today when I see someone walking down the street toward me, I try to be invisible. Kids are warned, “Don’t ever talk to strangers,” but strangers have the best candy.
When they lifted Ethel Rosenberg out of the electric chair after three high-voltage shocks, they discovered that her heart was still beating and had to strap her back in. Ancient mapmakers hypothesized a place across the water where it’s never the same thing over and over. I’m going to keep on throwing myself into the sea until I get there.
Howie Good is a writer and collagist on Cape Cod.
It Becomes Part of Your Soul
My friend upstairs called. Asked if one of our neighbors had died. The afternoon had been unseasonably hot. I thought he meant the fish-market funk of rats decomposing in the rafters. No, he said, claiming he had heard me and the owner of our building just outside his door, discussing his—my friend’s—death and how long we had to wait to have the authorities wheel out his body. I said no, a pastor interested in real estate and funeral planning had stopped by. Wandering the halls and wanting to be helpful, he had offered to raise any of the dead behind closed doors. My friend accused me of lying. He was sure I had seen a raven perched atop a neighboring phone pole, pulling large chunks of bread or flesh out of the pole for its meal, then preening itself and staring at his window. I said no, the raven had been staring away from the house, as it usually did. It had been yanking something out of the pole, but then a large femur plummeted onto the street immediately below the pole and started rolling downhill. “No, that was me,” he said.
Note: The title is taken from John Ashbery’s poem, “Ditto, Kiddo,” in the collection, A Wave.
Jonathan Yungkans juggles writing and photography with work as an in-home health-care provider, fueled by copious amounts of coffee, while finding time for the occasional deep breath. His work has appeared in MacQueen's Quinterly, Panoply, Synkroniciti, and other publications.
One Thing I Know for Sure
One thing I know for sure, all the paintings in the Louvre have been sliced in half, lengthwise, and have been reassembled by a blind surgeon. Mona Lisa's smile is now a smirk. And another thing I know for sure, my lover is sitting up in bed by my side and at the same moment, sweeping the floor in her house, 3000 miles away. I ask her, How do you accomplish that? Simple, she says, I just don't believe a word you say. The broom brushes against an object I hid underneath her bed. She has found the You Will Always Love Me juju doll that contains, in a little compartment, two eyelashes, one hers one mine, that I hid when I was last in her house. My lover carefully removes her eyelash and then whispers in the tiny doll's tiny ear, I am not your lover I will never be your lover. Three thousand miles away I sit up in bed, startled out of a deep sleep, drenched in sweat and breathing hard. My lover, who is sitting up in bed beside me reading a book about the history of raindrops, says, What's wrong Dear One, in Arabic, which she claims not to know. I don't know Habibi, I answer, but something is wrong, something is very wrong.
Another thing I know for sure is that Einstein said love was a spooky entanglement. That explains why I cannot stop talking to you even though you are gone. Love is just spooky action at a distance, he said, and dismissed it. Einstein observed love but could not explain it. I know that when the phone rings at three in the morning and I roll over in bed and answer, and it is your voice that I hear, I am dreaming so I hang up. I may be tangled in the sheets but I'm not crazy. I sit on a bench in the evening by the lake. I love this hour I say to you, the way the lake darkens and the sky lightens. You answer, I love the way you speak to me, although I am not really here—I love that about you. I know you do, I answer, I know.
Richard Garcia's poetry books include The Other Odyssey (Dream Horse Press, 2014), The Chair (BOA, 2015), and Porridge (Press 53, 2016). He has received a Pushcart Prize, and has been in Best American Poetry.
Unbroken is edited by Ken Chau, Dale Wisely, Katherine DiBella Seluja, Tom Fugalli, and Tina Carlson. Roo Black is founding editor emeritus. Our staff dentist / spiritual / legal advisor is Rev. Belonski Whey, J.D., DDS, Psy.D. Our thanks to the contributors to this issue and all who submitted their work.