Tales From The Town #32: A Gathering Of Crows

The crows gathered on the roof of the house. A hundred of them or more, all in a row, a cacophony of caws as they jostled for position amongst the crowd. On observing this event, many of the wisest sages and scholars from the town pondered the exact meaning of such an occurrence.

“Look at all the crows!” said Ethel. “I wonder what they’re all doing up there?” “I bet they’re hungry,” said Tina. “And now they’re looking for food.” “Crows eat eyeballs,” Daniel said seriously. “Dead eyeballs.” That was all he knew about crows. “Our house must smell of rotting meat then,” Claire said. “We must live in a house of dead flesh!”

“A gathering of crows like that means there’s going to be a storm,” Agnes called out to the children as they played on the swing. “You better all come inside before you get wet. I’ll make some hot chocolate and we can watch the lightning through the window.”

“An ominous warning,” the witch said, as she watched through her telescope from afar, in the comfort of her cottage, in the safety of the woods. “A portent for the horrors to come.” She cackled so gleefully the dolls covered their ears.

Back at the house, the crows, unaware of the speculation over the purpose of their existence, slid one by one down the icy gutter as if it was a slide, then joined the back of the queue to wait for another go.

___________

Notes:

1. Written between May 12th, 2021 and May 21st, 2021
2. I love crows
3. And wish of course to be one

__________

Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon or my ko-fi.

Patreon subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real.

(Ko-fi contributors probably only get the gratitude I'm afraid, but please get in touch if you want more).

Thank you!


The Hunter, The Crow

1.

They brought her body down from the woods today and left it in the square, that curved mask still covering her face, those black feathers still hanging from her arms. A small crowd watches. They know no better. They do not avert their eyes.

The blood that spills from her robes and runs along the cobblestones is not hers but ours, yours, theirs.

2.

There are always those for whom the occurrence of this spectacle was their first time. Those that do not recognise who this figure is, this hunter, this crow. Who do not know how many times she has been caught, been killed, been left here to rot on the stone steps of the court.

3.

In the woods in the winter, in the years she is alive, she leaves no footsteps in the snow, casts no shadow beneath the sun, makes no sound beneath the moon. Only by the bounties that she claims do we know that she is there.

In the summer she stands upon the hill and is not seen to move. But move she must, for never does she stop. There are always those among us ready to atone.

4.

We spoke once, this hunter and I, this crow, here in this very room, her mask pulled up enough to reveal her mouth, her lips, her bloodstained teeth. I cannot recall her words, though even if I did I know better than to repeat them. She deserves her privacy as we deserve our own.

5.

I can see them out there still, the crowd in the square. Her killer plucks a feather from her wings, holds it up to the sky.

I could not tell you what they hope to gain.

6.

The hunter is always young, always fast, always alone. The crow is always old, always slow, always on her own. The hunter is the crow, the crow is the hunter. There is no distinction between the two.

She is always a woman, even when she is a man. She could be any one of us, but is always no one we know.

7.

I remember the crackle of the fire, the steam rising from the cup in her hands, a glimpse of her tongue with every word that she spoke. I remember the caress of her fingers through my hair, the cold of her claws against my scalp, the trickle of blood as each fresh drop rolled down my cheeks like tears.

8.

I killed the hunter once. I killed the crow. I was young enough then I think I expected praise. I was certainly not then old enough to understand the shame.

9.

They say that those who kill the hunter, those that kill the crow, cannot themselves be killed. They say those that kill the hunter, those that kill the crow, can never themselves become the hunter, can never themselves become the crow. No matter how much they might wish themselves to be.

10.

I still have the feather I plucked from her wing. It is older than this house. It is older than this town. It is older than the woods in which she walks even now.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on November 16th, 2021

__________

Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon or my ko-fi.

Patreon subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real.

(Ko-fi contributors probably only get the gratitude I'm afraid, but please get in touch if you want more).

Thank you!


Tale #92: The Morning Birds Free The Soul, The Night Ones Take Them

It was a commonly held belief that heaven resided in the earth and hell within the air. Crops grew from the ground, while fire and smoke rose upwards.

Worms were believed to be new souls struggling to the surface from heaven, and only with the help of the morning birds could they be pulled free and delivered to the newborns that needed them. A child born in the morning was said to be blessed with a good soul.

Upon death, the body was returned to the ground, so as to be nearer heaven. The bodies of the sinful and the condemned were hoisted up and left on the roofs of houses, so that the evening birds (crows, gulls, owls) could pick clean their bones and take not only their flesh but their souls up into the skies towards damnation.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on August 8th, 2013

__________

Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon or my ko-fi.

Patreon subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real.

(Ko-fi contributors probably only get the gratitude I'm afraid, but please get in touch if you want more).

Thank you!


4/3/4 (#4)

yet another
collection
of these poems

that aren’t really
poems at
all, now, are they

***

#79: spite, obduracy

the whole point of
this is that
it annoys you

***

#80: a failure of words

there is not a
clear way to
say this at all

***

#81: on pens #1

i don’t like this
pen but its
all i have left

***

#82: on pens #2

ink doesn’t flow
correctly
across the page

***

#83: on pens #3

scratching away
the paper
each word a scar

***

#84: on pens #4

left the lid off
ink’s gone dry
pen thrown in bin

***

#85: sufficiently advanced self-awareness is indistinguishable from self-pity

i do not like
who i am
even slightly

***

#86: on waking #3

my brain has shrunk
like a voles
in midwinter

***

#87: lost in a dream (variation #1)

lost in a dream
of a life
hazy, drifting

***

#88: lost in a dream (variation #2)

lost in a dream
of my own
constant failings

***

#89: lost in a dream (variation #3)

lost in a dream
of a world
unrecognised

***

#90: bird poem #1

seven egrets
in a row
still as statues

***

#91: bird poem #2

a thousand ducks
braced against
the winter wind

***

#92: bird poem #3

crow flying off
holding an
egg in its beak

***

#93: bird poem #4

the cormorant
dives below
gulls hover above

***

#94: bird poem #5

a swan’s feather
floating past
caught in the wind

***

#95: the coming end of the bird poem cycle

cat sauntering
across road
over the fence

***

#96: happiness

road black with rain
heavy boots
joy of puddles

***

#97:

the puddle fits
perfectly
in its own hole

***

#98: despair #1

made the mistake
of reading
twitter today

***

#99: despair #2

some people seem
to really
want civil war

***

#100: waiting for the doors #1

phone-lit faces
punctuate
the snaking queue

***

#101: waiting for the doors #2

cigarette smoke
matching breath
bring your own fog

***

#102: the end of the process

this little box
is full now
of written words

***

#103: a lifetime of regrets

so many words
i shouldn’t
ever have said

***

#104:

a perfect world
as silent
and still as snow

___________

Notes:

1. Written in September and October 2019
2. The three previous collections of 4/3/4 poems can be found here, here and here
3. Bird poem #3 was actually based on a misidentification
4. And it was a walnut in the crow’s beak
5. rather than an egg
6. I disocvered this yesterday, when a crow dropped a walnut on the road in front of me
7. from it’s perch on the roof of the house
8. trying to crack it
9. but failing.
10. But then I noticed that the whole road was littered with walnut shell shrapnel
11. pleasing proof of their eventual success

__________

Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon or my ko-fi.

Patreon subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real.

(Ko-fi contributors probably only get the gratitude I'm afraid, but please get in touch if you want more).

Thank you!


Tale #71: The Crow Tree

It is often tempting for outside observers to judge a society or community solely by its traditions, rituals and festivals, to bestow a significance and seriousness onto events beyond that which they hold for their participants, to see superstition and fear in theatre and frivolity. Equally, of course, the reverse can be true for those involved, leading to a refusal to recognise the serious intent that underpins their festivities.

The event which takes place at the crow tree is one of the community’s least talked about rituals, and consequently can be assumed to be among its most serious. Indeed, there appears to be no written record of the ritual at all, although there are verified accounts of the tree used in the ritual itself dating back to the 15th Century. While the community’s own folklore suggests the ceremony has always taken place, nothing certain about its origins are recorded, and no speculations about its meaning would be offered to me.

The ritual takes place on February the 29th, during the second leap year after the birth of a father’s eldest daughter. The distinction of it being the father’s eldest daughter is an important one, as it means no man can participate in the ritual more than once, whereas a woman might well be required to participate both as a daughter and later as a mother.

(The strict criteria can lead to several convoluted possibilities where the mothers of daughters are concerned. For example, a mother’s first daughter might not be the father’s first daughter, and in this case the ritual would not be required. However, this same mother’s second daughter might then be fathered by a different man, one who has not fathered a daughter before, and so it would be this child that would necessitate the ritual. And of course this hypothetical mother could have more daughters by more new fathers, and so on. Indeed, it is possible for a mother to have to participate in the ritual with each of her daughters, while another woman may never have to, regardless of the number of daughters she has.)

Due to the fixed date of the event combined with the unfixed timing of a child’s birth, the daughter can be anywhere between the age of 4 and exactly 8 when she participates in the ritual. A child born on February the 29th would be the eldest possible participant, and a child born on February the 28th during a leap year would be the youngest.

If the child, the father or the mother have died before the ritual has taken place then a lament is sung by the surviving members of the family at the edge of the field where the ceremonial tree, or crow tree, resides. In these circumstances it is not permitted for the survivors to approach the tree itself during the course of the day.

In recent years, due to the decline in births within the community, it has been rare for there to be more than one family needing to perform the ritual in any given leap year, and indeed in some recent leap years the event has not taken place at all.

In times of a more populous community, however, when multiple rituals were to be carried out during the same day, the participating families were ordered by the age of the child involved, with the eldest girl first and youngest last – a reflection, perhaps, of the length of time they had been waiting to perform. On busy days it was said that, despite there being no apparent communication between the families, each group would arrive in the correct order, equally spaced apart, and that all the rituals would be finished in good time, well before the sun had set.

The ritual itself is one of the most sombre in the community’s complex calendar. No work is conducted on the day itself, and it is traditional for everyone who is not directly involved to stay inside their own houses, although this is not compulsory. No costumes are worn, and the tools used are not ceremonial objects, instead being everyday household objects or workplace items.

The ceremony starts with the father leaving his house at dawn. He makes his way to the edge of the field and waits by the gate. The mother and daughter do not hurry, although usually they will arrive before noon, and always before dusk. The mother carries with her a pail filled with breadcrumbs, offal, fish guts, bones, butter. The daughter carries a length of rope and a knife. When they arrive at the gate to the field, the father wordlessly leads the way in and they walk together to the crow tree at the centre of the field.

The crow tree is a long dead oak, its trunk and branches bleached white as bone by the sun. Other dead oak trees dot the field, but the crow tree is the only one that remains completely bare of ivy or lichen. It is believed that the trees in the field were killed by the sea hundreds of years ago, although the field is many miles inland. The trees themselves are so cold and solid it is tempting to believe they are actually made of stone.

The father stands with his back to the tree. The rope is tied around his left wrist, looped round the tree, and then secured around his right wrist. The daughter pushes her knife into her father’s belly as deeply as she can.

“Speak,” she says, and her father speaks.

They listen. His words go unrecorded.

“Sleep,” says the mother, and, removing the knife from his belly, she slits his throat.

His body is cut down from the tree and dragged a short way from the trunk. The food from the bucket is spread in a circle around him. The knife is placed in the pail, and the women, hand in hand, leave.

Overnight the crows come down from the tree and feed, either upon the flesh of beasts or the flesh of man. In the morning, as the crows return to their roosts, the father is reborn.

Thus judged, some fathers make their way back to town, bucket and knife in hand, and return to their former lives. Others leave, and are not known to be missed.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in April, 2010
2. This appeared in the “Rituals” issue of Here Comes Everyone magazine, in January 2019

__________

Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon or my ko-fi.

Patreon subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real.

(Ko-fi contributors probably only get the gratitude I'm afraid, but please get in touch if you want more).

Thank you!