The Crow and the Cat

A crow don’t care
Who knows he’s there.
He caws all day.
Got lots to say:

What’s that?
Who goes?
See that!
Want those!

A crow’s a racket in a tree
For all the world to hear and see.

A cat won’t share
The fact she’s there.
She’ll be where she
Decides to be:

She lies
In wait;
Claws sharp,
Tail straight.

A cat’s a shadow in the grass
You’ll barely notice as you pass.

I saw the cat an hour ago
About the time I heard the crow.
And now I do not see the cat.
And now it’s quiet. Funny, that.

Under the Hood

First page:

cc1This poem started at the top of the page — a very mannerly place to begin writing — with the line, “a shell might be a turtle in disguise.” Next I wrote, “we just don’t care who knows it.” I have no idea what it means and I didn’t think about it before I wrote it down.

Then I did think about it. The first line struck me as glib, and didn’t fit any idea I had about turtles. I also don’t have strong feelings about turtles. I liked the second line, and I thought maybe I could make the first line work by tying them together: “a turtle doesn’t care who knows it.” But — an even deeper problem than my disdain for turtles — not caring doesn’t fit with the idea of being in disguise.

So I dropped the first line, since I didn’t like it anyway. Now the strongest bits left were care and knows it, but knows it isn’t as strong as just knows… and knows nearly rhymes with crow. I dropped the word it, and then I was writing a poem about a crow.

I care far more about crows than turtles. I associate crows with the Indian trickster varmints (notably crow, raven, and coyote), with American folk lyrics (as it happens, I’d listened to four different versions of Crow Jane in the last week), with the astonishing Crow poems of Ted Hughes, and with the crows that noise up my neighborhood. I wanted to keep “don’t care” rather than change it to “doesn’t care,” mostly because changing to “doesn’t” would screw up the meter. Fortunately, my image of a crow makes a neat fit with the slangy “don’t care.” At that point, “there” was the obvious and necessary rhyme for “care,” and I had my first stanza.

I knew right away I didn’t want to write a poem just about a crow. The opening stanza about the cat came next: “A cat / won’t share / The fact / she’s there.” I made the cat female, the crow male, to get as much contrast as possible into the situation.

Second page:
cc2This is the facing page to the first page, where at some point I started consolidating my stanzas. I went back and forth a lot between this page and the first page.

The first stanza meant I needed a rhyme every two syllables. I could say that the interior rhymes aren’t as clean as the rhymes that end the lines (crow / knows versus care / there), but to tell the truth, the interior rhymes are mostly just miserable cheats (cat / fact? really?) They help stitch the lines together, though, and because they’re in the middle of the sentences and don’t draw the ear, the imprecision doesn’t bother me. Much.

At one point I thought of moving the third and fourth lines of each stanza to the end, but that didn’t work, because in each case those lines belonged with the first two lines: they continued the description the first lines had begun. After I circled those lines and drew arrows to where they could go, I saw it didn’t work and scribbled out the arrows. I wrote a new couplet to end each stanza. Now each stanza progresses like this: lines 1-4 explain the creature’s characters; lines 4-7 show them in action; lines 8-9 are about how they’re seen.

Third page:

cc3Still trying to work out the ending: it was getting out of hand on the previous page. “I” make an appearance for the first time in the closing stanza.

Fourth page:

cc4Done, more or less.

The image I chose to illustrate the poem is a 1922 illustration by Boris Artzybasheff, which he made for a story called “The Story of a Black-Headed Crow and a Little Yellow Canary” from Verotchka’s Tales by Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak. The book and its illustrations are in the public domain in the U.S.

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