I rarely write poetry these days, but some experiences defy capture in any other form. Like last week, when I stumbled into a murder.
Running along the river just after sunrise, swathed in the damp-earth smells of recent rain, the rhythm of my feet had lulled me into a meditative mind. A flash of black wings shattered my serenity. Furry legs kicked up sprays of dirt on the embankment ahead. A raven hunched over a rabbit, stabbing it methodically with a sharp beak. Two noisy miners swooped and shrieked overhead. Their appalled cries echoed my own reaction; after several peaceful miles, I struggled to process such sudden savagery. Other joggers and cyclists probably stared, wondering why this somber-faced woman crouched on the wet ground, murmuring and going stiff. I only heard them pass. My eyes stayed on the rabbit and the raven.
After I finally continued on, my brain tried to process the encounter. Fractured thoughts, perhaps absorbing the tempo of my muddy sneakers, knit into vague verse. That evening, I pounded them out and shared it with a poet friend for appraisal. He responded favorably, so I did a little revision and called it a poem. Initially, I’d planned to expound upon the incident’s Meaning, that proper-noun patron of undergraduate English courses. But my fingers stopped at the line about the raven’s eye. To the principal characters, what happened was simply nature, the endless exchanges of deaths for lives. Any philosophical extrapolation was only an abstraction of my human brain, grasping for significance in a mundane act of survival.
So I left the poem raw. It better evokes the stark simplicity of those minutes on the trailside. You, the reader, can infer whatever capital-M meaning from it you like. Is it a parable about a complacent human, faced with the brutal reality of nature off the paved path? A glimpse into the violent side of nature? Or just doggerel by a writer who should stick with prose? In any case, the macabre imagery seemed suitable for Halloween. So in the spooky spirit of the season, I present Rabbit, Raven, Runner. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
RABBIT. RAVEN. RUNNER. Like a feathered Mesoamerican god, the raven plunges its obsidian beak into the rabbit’s heart. Furry feet flail furrows in the spring soil, scraping a shallow grave. Survival surges my own legs off the trail. Damp grass weeps into my sneakers. The bird hops back, unabashed, and lets me examine its prey. How is there no blood? Dirt and dew bedraggle the soft pelt. It must have emerged from the nearby warren into the shadow of black wings. Soft ears skim the rigid arch of its spine. Dark liquid eyes reflect shock and sky. Ribs heave in and out. I clench my hands against the instinct to stroke and soothe—this creature has already endured too much touch. I cannot hold it, heal it, help it. So I sing gentle stream sounds and keep vigil until paws uncurl from panic, last nerve pulses shiver through hind limbs, frantic breaths fade to a faint, erratic shudder. Savoring success, the raven drinks from a puddle, drops a white star of excrement, and struts back up the slope toward its meal. “Not yet,” I tell the patient azure eye of death. © 2022 J.K. Ullrich