I wrote this poem probably a decade ago, if not actually on the date mentioned in the epigraph. When Natasha asked me to include a poem of my own, this came to mind because clearly, it’s an argument between two parts of myself, one projected outward onto the crows. It’s a dialogue between hope and despair, I suppose, or between belief in human culture and skepticism that we can ever overcome our murderous ways. The speaker gets stronger as the poem goes on, but they get the last word—because those who suffer, victims and survivors, must be remembered, and memory must have meaning. This poem was first published in Otherwise Unseeable, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

Betsy Sholl MAJ poetry editor


The Argument

1 September 2009


On my way to the library,

sunlight on the first turning leaves,

goldenrod, coreopsis—and the crows

have something to say:

For the sake of the dead, for the sake

of the murdered, don’t wax too eloquent

here under these dust-choked trees.

Clear sky, seventy years since

Hitler invaded Poland, and we are here,

just one stray cloud for contrast.

But now a chorus of bleak thoughts,

a tree full of black fruit:

 For the sake of the horses those Poles rode out

against panzers and planes, for the sake of the spur wounds

gouged in their sides, their buckling legs, for the men

on their backs still human as they fell, and the other men

inside their tanks turning into machines . . . 


Oh lighten up, I want to say. Morning glories

have scaled the stop sign, school buses are making

their first practice runs. The world goes on.

Still, the crows, those irascible grievers,

ratchet up their cries:

Goes on? Like bullhorns given over to endless

yammering channels? Like this gasping hound

the woman can barely contain on its leash, straining

after a squirrel, a sunning cat, now you?—


You, with your own black heart, carnivorous and wingless.

Okay, okay. But can’t I praise this late

summer day, the air rinsed clean?—and don’t say,

Good for invasion. Let me have this brief walk

to return seven picture books showing children

a world of order and cheer, bears in ruffled aprons,

singing badgers—


and, I would like to point out, not one crow

tugging at road kill-guts, relishing the sound

of its own backfired voice.


But overhead, on a wire slung across the street,

that row of frayed umbrella wings—as if a clear sky’s

no protection—and one rusty croak:


For the sake of the murdered, for the sake of the dead,

for all that hasn’t happened yet . . .



Image at top: Lee Chisholm, Crows, watercolor, 16 x 16 in., 2021.