13:4: “A Kindness of Ravens”, by James J. Stevenson

13:4: “A Kindness of Ravens”, by James J. Stevenson
A Kindness of Ravens

Raven had taken many forms—
coyote, infant, pine-needle—
when tales were told
and heroes could shape shift
from one telling to the next.

But when stories stopped being spoken
and cement poured over his talons
Raven became a hospital
tricking carrion into preservation
in freshly sanitized pickle jars.

From his north wing, Nana heard
the forest coming down
while a sedge of flightless cranes
built nests for the wing-clipped
parliaments, coveys, and convocations.

Raven was her eyes
explaining how nightingale floors
were being installed so no patient
could escape without sounding
the alarm of bird song;

how the skylark’s spirit had been caged
in a library shaped like a book;
and how there was only one way
to see a blackbird now:
simplified in an apartment complex.

The parking lot was a damp
black rook in the rain
and the food court a windhover
made prey to never again ride,
glide, or stride in the morning.

Raven saw Nana’s cataracts lighten
and warned her that to turn left of the sunrise
is to die if it’s the wrong season,
but she stretched her wing north
where every beat turned her south

until Raven raised his own wing
admitting that the wrong season
sometimes is the right one after all.
Her blue vulture eyes returned to green
and she flew north as a kindness of ravens.


James J. Stevenson speculates and fictionalises in Vancouver. His stories, poems, and comics have been published in a variety of journals and anthologies including Vallum, Spellbound, and Fearsome Fables. Follow his daily haiku on Twitter @writelightning or on his blog writewithlightning.com.
He says:

“A Kindness of Ravens” was inspired by the visits I made to see my grandmother at the UBC Hospital and the cranes (birds) and cranes (machines) all over campus. I imagined Raven, trickster deity of the Haida, forming a kindness of ravens with my grandmother when she died, rather than one of the actual collective nouns for ravens: an unkindness. There is also a pandemonium of other avian literary allusions in the poem. Comment if you can find them!


Photograph of hoarfrost in Niedersachsen, Germany, by Daniel Schwen, is provided under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.



One Response to “13:4: “A Kindness of Ravens”, by James J. Stevenson”

  1. Skip says:

    A parliament of owls! a sedge of cranes? I’ll leave the others for the ‘clump? of commenters’ who may want to try.

    Loved the idea of the hospital/raven’s wings.

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