All those crows in the cathedral elms and fair oaks in the little park by the art museum. White marble and the bare wet and black-knobbed branches leafed with a thousand black birds, ten thousand, a hundred-thousand maybe, not soft but crisp and crackling, cackling, their bodies rounded in the cold, and then the pointed tails and sharp, black beaks. Birds sprout and expand from branches on black twig legs. A congregation in a winter roost, a hundred-year roost, a roost that began before the great mansions were begun, and the art museum, and the fair oaks planted to shade red sandstone and white limestone walls, to shade the now long gone ponds and gazebos, to hold the crows that cawed and cooed in a thousand cold nights.
Like Queen Anne’s lace dried through the winter, like carved saints and black angels on columns of stone, columns of ridged bark, branches, arches, columns of sap and xylem, the crows roost and caw through the bristles that line their nostrils, bristles that buzz like humming through tissue on a comb. The winter roost is safe for birds with poor night vision in trees minus their protective canopies of leaves. The winter roost is social and noisy and families disperse to visit others remembered from previous winters. Young crows of two summers congregate like teenagers with late curfews; their eyes darkened to black, or maybe still blue.
Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, short-beaked raven. And crow, the Anglo-Saxon onomatopoeia for the call: crawe. Crows are kraii in Dutch, Krähe in Germans, and kka ma gui in Korean. They announce themselves so distinctly their sound becomes their name, sound and animal one creature; and would the creature be less animal without its sound? Crow: an aural solipsism. Crow: a feathered and circular reasoning. The birds in the black trees in the park are bold in air like a whet stone, cold and tangy and smooth and round as a pebble; and every interstice of branch and bird and hoop-round air is filled with jabs of sound, a rubber-horn chorus of clicks and barks.
Crows mob, chasing hawks and owls in chorus lines of honks and hollers. Crows ant, feathers smeared with formic acid and splinters of black and brown chitin. And crows hunt and carve sharp tools from black twigs and wire with black claws and beak. Crows’ beaks cannot split even the skin of a grey squirrel, so sun and rot become tools to soften and open meat, the wriggling rice larvae an increase in protein.
And the crows in the elms with their lifelong mates and the collaboration of successive generations, a cooperative murder: many members of a family, the winter roost a great murder, many families as comfortable and raucous in the trees as a state park full of campers. The local abundance of crows is called an imbalance, but what does that mean to the little park and the oaks and the elms? The crows are suspended black gravity, quilled potential, reproducing wildly in the urban wild: a species out of control. Not under our control. The winter roost defies the ordered blocks and stately defining geometries of the city, but the crows don’t know they’re out of order. The crows don’t appear to regard their number with concern.
The murder rests suspended, black vocal gravity on arching wet columns, and the white snow falling on bodies and beaks, falling through the panicle like pollen, downy soft, soft as feathers.