Crow Medicine

She was in the middle of the sidewalk when I found her. Still. And so out of place, lying peacefully belly-down.

In final rebellion she sleeps serene where danger stalks. But then the rules of the waking — of predator and of prey — do not apply in the in-between. Death gives permission for the undoing of things. A dangerous mirror for the living.

On my way down to the ocean I tracked the sun’s fragile light through grey clouds and the tunnel of trees, warming in streaming ribbons the west side of the street. The morning was cold, threatening rain.

Above me I heard them in great raucous choirs, particularly loud this morning I noted, and smiled to myself as I always do when in secret communion with the everyday. These dark ones hold a tenuous place in my heart.

Tenuous because it’s slippery and hidden, and sometimes when too much time is spent in the trappings of the middle world, I forget about this place and turn away from it. And dark because… well, it is.

The crows though, gathering in murderous number on the telephone lines and treetops of the homes on Fourth Street, have always reminded me of a larger swing of the wheel. The one that goes under where few dare to travel (willingly), and rises up reborn.

The one that faces the dark and is made stronger because of it. The crows… they never shut up.

In a clashing of parallel worlds and reasons, I had wandered oceanside to buy a pair of latex gloves to color my hair dark again, so that it matched the season of waning light and the growing power of what had been distilled on the inside.

It had been a month of staring in the mirror looking at the frayed ends of a cycle. Staring because the one I looked at no longer existed, and like death, it confused me how one thing can be there, and yet not be there all at once. So, needless to say, I was as prepared for her as she was for me.

The crows in the treetops had silenced and split, and what remained was the mists and the quiet hush of the holy as I picked her up in my gloved hands, and was moved by her yet warm and tender, soft body.

I sneaked the half-a-block walk back to my home, ashamed to have touched this piece of death and thus involving myself in a process far beyond me. The taboo of it burned my hands. Death demands respect, and sometimes where respect gets thwarted by fear, it turns to disgust.

I could hear my neighbors call out, “You best leave that bird! Birds carry diseases and parasites, you don’t want to be touching that! What are you going to do with that anyway?”

And then the stony silence when I’d smile a sad smile in return and enter into my home holding death and parasites and fear.

To me, at least, this bird was beautiful in death. Inky black and shimmering blue, proud stature, powerful beak. Perfect and unscathed for its last transition. An emissary of another time and a different way, where all belong in their skin as perfect and complete inside and out.

I felt ungainly, awkward next to this creature, as I had been for weeks, grappling with self-directed and deprecating apologies for not enough.

This not enough story was in the final throes of its struggle, reconciling months — no, years — of painful disregard for the fulness one possesses at the center of things, that leads us always… sometimes into those dark spaces that smell of decay.

For this reason, the crow modeled a surrender I was yet to find and longed for under surface composure and Holiday wishes.

I looked down at her little body, still untouched by the rigors of death, and as I laid her down in the hole I had dug outside my apartment, I sang a little song for her and began to cry.

Messily.

Yes, death is the undoing of things… dangerous for all the light loiterers for its inevitable disturbance knocks the rose-colored glasses aside to reveal a terrifying wholeness that is the end of what is known and the beginning of what can only be imagined.

With the under-swing of the wheel, I too know to let myself be caught in the dark downward swirl of the Mother, and there, over the crow-hole, pieces shed off of me like the dropping weight of snow off a bough — leaving what is underneath exposed and bare — and stronger because of it.

This is sacred reciprocity. This is opening oneself enough to be touched where it matters, by all things in relationship. The crow took my tears earthward, the watery runoff at long last of the not enough story, leaving only open curiosity and the temporal beauty that impermanence affords us. No time to waste.

“Make room,” she seemed to say. Take heart. Every death keeps a rhythm for new life.