INTRODUCTION: Having launched the video production of Dead Crow: Prologue last October, followed by a brief performance tour of the West Kootenay, it occurred to me that the last time I’d posted the text for the poem was in 2012. The poem has undergone many changes since then, while retaining the integrity of the original piece. It should be noted that in the interests of continuity the interpolated verses of Dead Crow’s various names was not used for the live show. On the page, these one-line verses act as a kind of counterpoint voice, shifting from Dead Crow’s speech to that of a narrator’s voice listing off his many names in an almost incantatory manner.
Sean Arthur Joyce as Dead Crow. Photo by Kim Walker.
Dead Crow: Prologue (Exile)
“You want my name? Which one? I’m known by many names: Dead Crow. Jackdaw crook. Split-tongued muse. Dark rook in a bleak rain. What’s in a name? Only millennia of lives lived. I’ve been here so long I’m starting to look human. Time has filed down my voice with a rasp.”
“Emperor of the Crossroads, I nest over the forked path. You think I care about spells, incantations, alchemy? These are just artifacts of what I already know. My only interest in bones is to pick them clean. Blood-cloaked loner on a trail of fingerbones—that’s me. Black as the womb before star seeds snap life into being. Black as the feathers that fly straight from the eye of God.”
Dead Crow. Shadow eater. Blackfeather acrobat. Walks with a slight limp.
“Stare into my left eye—I dare you! See what happens. Reality here moves like mercury, not iron. In my realm, stones on the beach are black embers, barely cooled. Leaves raven-sheeny in red moonlight. That sound you hear is not wind but souls drifting past. Wind a deft pianist and every leaf another key. I’ve given up flying because thought is faster. If I only need to go short distances—hell, the walk will do me good.”
Dead Crow. Charcoal sunfire. Bleak prophet. Speaks with a slitted grin.
“In my realm, thought translates directly into reality. Karma stops lying on its ass in front of the TV all day. Equal forces are met with equal and instant reactions. You think you hate your enemy and want him dead, and CAAW!—he’s dead. You wonder one summer afternoon why grass isn’t orange instead of green, and before your eyes the entire landscape turns Mandarin Impressionist. You think something hurtful about the person you love and she cries. Suddenly loving becomes much, much simpler. Then again, maybe not.”
Dead Crow. World sculptor. Michelangelo of tongues. Sings in a broken key.
“Once I was white as the Arctic Circle, pristine as sunlight on a wall. Once, my world was green and full of flowers, just like this one—meadows alive with birdsong, streams flowing mountain crystal. Then one day Skunk came by. “Be careful, Crow,” she said. “Be proud of your thought magic and all the wonderful things it makes. But be careful.” It was then I began to realize—I was a god!”
Dead Crow. Stone render. Planet furnace. Semen of dusky angels.
“Every day, Skunk would come by and warn me, “Be careful.” At first, I just laughed her off. But gradually my patience flaked away like mica. Finally one day, when Skunk came into my sight, I exploded—a total eclipse of rage. I envisioned my world engulfed in flame and it was so—every living thing charred black. Now I was Dead Crow, King of Shadows.”
Dead Crow. Black curtain slasher. Hell-delver. Well of constant sorrow.
“Dawn Bringers and World Seeders that they are, the Makers sensed a great threat. With power like that I could black out an entire galaxy. In the past, only the coiling, bottomless throats of black holes could do that. Something had to be done. But I’m nobody’s fool. A simple frontal attack would never work on me. Trickery would have to be employed. So the Council of Gods invited me to a banquet as guest of honour. “A tribute to your genius,” they said. Damn my vanity!”
Dead Crow. Galaxy burner. Star furnace. Last among godly equals.
“But, Oh—I was a brilliant sight—feathers white-hot, a prime specimen of White Crow clan. Goddesses purred over me, stroking my plumage into light. Gods praised me for my mental powers, to turn an entire world black like that. Their singers sang me songs. Poets composed epic verses—all to commemorate Dead Crow’s great deed. I confess, I let myself get sloppy with wine, dancing on the table, answering song with song, poem with poem, joke with joke. Did they butter me up!”
Dead Crow. White star blossom. Snowfire bard. Master of song shards.
“Next thing I knew, the Makers set a mirror on the table with liquid surface still as a pond. “What will I see?” I asked. “The truth of yourself,” they said. But—Oh gods! What I saw—! My beautiful white feathers—black as coal in the belly of rock! Black as the world my thought had consumed! Desperately I turned to stare into a silver platter, hoping it wasn’t so. But no! I was black, black, BLACK!”
Dead Crow. Black matter king. Brokenwing god. Messenger of tears.
“What have you done to me?” I screamed. “We’ve shown you the truth of yourself,” said the Makers. “But I only used the power you gave me,” I protested. “How was I supposed to know how dangerous it could be?” But the party was over and they were in no mood for discussion. Said they had a job for me. Made me step up to the mirror again. Sober now, my every step quivered. A weird incantation was uttered. Found myself being pulled inside the mirror in a slurry of atoms. Thought I was being torn apart, yet I felt no pain.”
Dead Crow. Dark mirror diver. Blank slate diviner. Voice of all regrets in one.
“When my vision cleared I had to check all my parts. Found myself on a completely unfamiliar world. Gradually I realized this was the place they call Earth. “But WHY?” I begged. “Why take me from my home?” To my shock, my lovely singing voice—once the pride of White Crow clan—rasped horribly. I tried to sing once or twice more but it was no use. I’m not ashamed to say I wept. Lifting on an updraft, I slid over forests and fields. Time weighed like the sun on my wings. My guts felt a terrible sense of millennia washing over me. Didn’t know how long I could take it. Decided to smash myself into the highest crag I could find—just get it over with. Then there was that voice again—the Makers. “You must not die, Crow. You are our Watcher, and this is now your home.” “But for how long, how LONG?” I demanded. But too late.”
Dead Crow. Earth wanderer. World watcher. Quintessence of loneliness.
“You can imagine the comedown—from Sovereign of Shades, Alchemist of Secrets, Magi of Creation—to a lowly carrion eater. From a thousand languages to a hinge’s rusty growl. And in this galactic backwater! Worst of all, a scavenger kicked around by Humans, who shit their own nests. Prisoner and warder in one—freedom a distant, torturing dream.”
Dead Crow.Crab Nebula outlaw. Dog star wild card. Cassiopeia’s Twilight Angel.
“I’ve seen a helluva lot over the millennia. I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in in 40,000 years. 1 You want me to start coughing up the secrets? Fine. The Book of Secrets is bound in crow feathers. You want all the arcane equations? Hyperspace, wormholes, time travel? Listen—I’ve seen the universe spread in every direction like strings of pearls. Every pearl another world, another dimension skating sideways across time. Past, present and future the nexus of thought. And every thought another world budding on the World Tree.”
Dead Crow. Stormcloud dancer. Dimension-bender. Shaman incognito.
“My time has ended. Yours is just beginning. You want evolution? Give me somebody who can think before they act. Give me poets who translate straight from Earth’s core. Her signs and wonders are not in vain. Her secrets are ours. You think this world is everything there is? We see the stars from the bottom of a well. This reality we signed on for—this world order? We can agree it has failed and sign off. Make up a new one.”
Dead Crow grins that long-beaked grin that has been the envy of every great smart-ass since the dawn of Time.
“But then again, I could be lying. Why not find out for yourself?”