At first, I thought the crow was in dire distress. Before I could even spot it, I heard the cries. They struck like strings torn from a guitar, snapping and entwining in mid-air. I was at the Bon Air Center, near the Bank of America building with its wide expanse of second floor windows that reflect skies and at times play back the random show of clouds. It was late afternoon, the hour of dusk a hint at the fringed edge of fog rolling over Mt. Tam in the distance.
The crow was perched on the railing of one of the narrow-ledged balconies, facing in toward the window. From there it would fly up to the height of the window, then drop down, then fly up again, shrieking all along and fluttering its roughed-up wings when it landed back on the ledge.
I tried whistling to it to get its attention. I was so sure that it was mistaking the reflection of the swatch of world in the window for its true territory. The crow ignored my signals and kept on flying up and down, shrieking. At the other end of the building, at a considerable distance, a couple of other crows were watching it and me.
Finally, after calling out and whistling for some time, I went a little closer to the building and took out my car keys and jingled them while waving my arms high. The crow, during one of its landings on the balcony ledge, turned around and looked at me. I waved with a little more urgency, and the crow flew off, but not before giving one more backward glance to the world reflected in the window behind it. I walked away feeling as if I had done a god deed, indeed….
An hour later, when I came back the same way, I heard that unmistakable shriek. The crow was back on its perch, launching itself up and against the window and dropping down, flapping its wings, pecking at the glass. The next day, when I went back out of curiosity, the crow was at it again, shrieking, flying up and down, and pecking at the glass. Far off, at the other end of the building, a couple of crows were watching. Perhaps they were the same ones as the day before, perhaps not. The stood nearly motionless, keeping their distance.
For some reason, maybe because lately my own ideas about art have been flapping around, like that crow’s bedraggled wings against the glass, I thought of William Butler Yeats, the poet, who had said that “out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”
The crow, in such a deep quarrel with itself, was not making poetry, obviously. But it was making me think about the nature of quarrels, especially those that we have with ourselves. For the majority of us, the quarrel with oneself will never give rise to poetry. For the majority of that majority, those “selfie” squabbles will end up settled in therapy or AA meetings, or in the copious consumption of volumes of self-help books.
For the minority of self-debaters that fall into the poet category, a quarrel with oneself may well be a welcome boost out of the mud of prose. But for a few, though still numerous if you care to acknowledge them, like for that crow at Bon Air, the sudden lift in the heated drafts of squabbles with oneself will always run up against a window in which the reflection of endless horizons remains tantalizing.
For them, the quarrel with the self will go on in repetitive patterns and rhythms, but these patterns will not be that of the lyric lifting the sorrows of self into a receptive world. Instead, these quarrels will remain the confines of a madness in which the world is bound by the angle of reflections in a window against which reason flaps. Whistles, jangling of keys, and other forms of attempted rescues, useless, as we watch, whether from a distance, like those other crows did, or up close, but inexplicably separated the glass of lucidity from which we keep looking out and through which the afflicted cannot see in.