issue twenty-eight

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(1370 words)
Ken Poyner
Crow's Alley
       Do not think me special in any way. I am plain and well-used. I am unseen in an audience. I am as common a scarecrow as you can find in any southeastern Virginia garden worth the work of a scarecrow.

Many of the crows hardly notice me. The grackles perch on my arms, looking below for the shadow of likely food grazing at the edge of my penumbra: tiny, unthinking prey snatching anything excited by the emerging light. I pay them no attention: they have their work, and thus their utility.

I think of myself as pieces. My head constraint is a rice sack. My chest is held back by a shirt the farmer should have thrown out three years before he took it to make a limit to me. My arms feed into gloves that are tied to the sleeves of the shirt with old wire twisted together and folded over. I believe I would have stuffed my fingers less, as each hand looks like a balloon about to engage the higher air.

My pants the farmer outgrew longer ago than he can remember. Years he kept them in the closet, imagining one day he would slim back down to the strap of an action that once he was, the supple exclamation point he had intended to be all of his life. Too quickly the idea that he would return to his former electricity became the thought that he might one day, just possibly, reach back to be again what his past teased him with. And then the thought was that he was as he was, and it was entirely what he should be. And still the pants waited for good purpose. I was born to purpose, and so convenient to be bound by the pants, good or not.

Straw. Straw everywhere. The old cliché is that we scarecrows fear fire, and we do. But not as much as rot. Water in the straw and months of wet and dry and the straw begins to rot and sometimes to swell with the dampness and we burst our buttons out of decay and not pride. The heavier straw falls out and if the farmer is not willing to rearrange the scarecrow we grow ever more limp and lean and like a line of cloth, a flag for crows and grackles and an embarrassment to our friends the owls and the ever-vigilant dangling silver pans.

Owls and pans and hawks and silver ribbon. Yes, I am but a member of a team. A scarecrow alone is not much deterrence. The owls assist with the rats; pie pans and pastry tins tied to the fence, or even tied to me, gambol in the wind and strike randomly against each other with sounds and whispers that seem to discourage the crows. Hawks master the high ether. Owls flick in and out of the dusk; pans twist in any slightly agitated air, scattering sun and catching the eyes of crows. Silver ribbons strain at the fence, flashing a much bigger mouth than it really has. Crows have many fields to select. I and my mates try to make this field a harder target than the neighbors' fields might appear to be.

It is simple work. I have few tricks to play, few tasks to complete. I am working by being what I am, nothing more. If I am here, I am on watch. Nights I take off my hat and reach around to the nail just at the base of my neck, where stretched is the strap that supports me against this spike in the field. I slip myself cautiously off, dropping with nothing more than a rustle against the lazy leaves of my charge, the corn. I must say, for an ordinary scarecrow, I have kept my dexterity over the years. This farmer replaces my straw often enough that I always have a fresh crackle and a reach behind the neck that is the envy of all along this section of the county.

Scarecrows never sleep, so sometimes we gather at one farm, sometimes at another, swapping crow stories: laughing when one of us has been hit that day by crow droppings; describing the shadows of birds that seemed more bold than most, or faster. We talk shop late into the night -- who saw the largest grackle this week, what the rain has done to our wardrobes, when the heat in the compost becomes smoke, how many times the Dozer farm has had its one cow stray into the field and disappear within the stalks. One scarecrow brings a rat he has domesticated and sometimes we feed the indolent rat parts of ourselves. The rat has grown too fat to wander far and settles in at the knee of the owning scarecrow, as comfortable in our company as though he had been constructed not by God but by ordinary citizens.

Some nights I do not feel like company or shop talk and I will wander out of my field and up to the house. The farmer and his wife draw their curtains only part way, this land being in what is, these days, thought of as the essence of nowhere, though you can see the lights of the next house if you stand on the porch. I stand on the porch and see the lights of the next house. But mostly I look in at the farmer's windows as though I were watching a television play, wondering what is coming next and how it relates to what I have seen pass. Now and again I catch the farmer's wife fresh out of the shower, or sitting to align her hair, or trying on the night's sleeping ware -- discarding this, selecting that, changing back. I imagine how rough my straw would be on her leathering skin, the sympathetic redness perhaps appealing and more deeply aligned to sensation: to actual awareness. I wonder if she would want to hear about my day, about the crows that ignore me and the ones that are terrified of the pans and the ones that avoid our field altogether, thinking me fierce. I could tell her things about the sun and the rain that she has not had the time to learn, nor the will to suffer. I could regale her with how well my good straw moves and holds form. I could speak of the eyes of owl and prey both at the moment of capture filled with exactly the same brilliant burst of planetary subduction.

I watch the farmer take his wife in his leathered arms, the better of him gone slack and the slack of him gone round. The top of his days are beyond him now and his horizons lie flat and snuggle comfortably with the ground. My end is sudden compared to his, but his is nonetheless relentless, mal-forming him as he struggles with time and season and the seeds of his next lumbering stretch of subsistence. He does not see in himself what his wife sees, nor does he look to see beyond the doing of things; and he bends into the light she gives, like he were the corn and she an elastic sun speckled with crowding clouds.

At the end of each night, I wander back to my stake in the field and wriggle my strap to jut just out so, and leap a few times until it catches, then angle and bob until I am fixed finally right on the pole. I am sure that, back at the house, the farmer drifting into his troubled rest is glad on some semi-conscious level that he did not fashion me complete: that I have only the outline of a man; that I am missing too many particulars to be useful in my intentions, and useless well beyond his intentions. I am what I am, and I spend the rest of the night thinking what I could be if I could have had a better maker, one who would have crafted the details as well as the outline. A maker unafraid to be nearly perfect in lovingly assembling even the unspoken unnecessary. A maker skilled enough to fashion a rival.


M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, Ken Poyner. All rights reserved.