The Crows

'The Teenage Poems' by Madhuri

An excerpt from Madhuri’s latest book, The Teenage Poems.

American Crow Perches on an Empty Railroad Track

We are the crows.
We stroll between railroad tracks,
trading brown coins.
We rise to the wires
when a train blows by
it storms and sucks at our feet
that are like stolen twigs
rasping their scales together,

In the morning
warehouses pile
just inside our vision.
The grey lights switch all day
and we shake from our feathers
broken dust and walnut shells.
We peck between steel thighs.

Once one of us
jabbed his beak in tar. Gravel stuck to it,
he slowly starved.
His fish-roe eye was desperate; he clung
to a glittering telephone pole.
When he fell through the dusk
we were the crows
watching the train-light slice him
like a dust-filled egg.

on the wires at night
our heads are filled
with our dreams,
that thunder through the streets
swollen huge and runaway,
soot slapping the trees.

My childhood house was just a few blocks from the train tracks. There was a large nut-canning factory, for the abundant produce of the region, just beside the tracks. The factory was surrounded by a ground-cover of crushed nut-shells. We children, and our father, had a lot to do with these tracks, somehow. We watched trains, tiptoed barefoot on hot black creosote-smelling ties, avoiding the burning rails, across a railroad bridge over the arroyo – a deep chasm where a stream ran when it rained – listening for the danger of trains. We got nail-hard puncture vine stickers in our feet. We picnicked in the dusty shade of nearby towering bushes. And, for some reason, our father liked to stand and watch the trains from uncomfortably close up. I am told that he did this whilst holding his screaming infant daughter – me – paying no attention (rages my mother) to my loud distress.

Certainly those trains came into my dreams. My childhood was laced with nightmares: I’m trying to cross the tracks but can barely move, can only ooze slowly, the train is coming, roaring, shaking the world. Or, I’m caught between two trains and must lie down on the shards of nut-shell, trembling, just inches from the tracks, waiting for the monsters to pass. Or, as in this poem, a train has gone off its tracks and is “Thundering through the streets / swollen huge and runaway.” In that dream it felt as if there was no safety at all, anywhere. I’d wake sick with terror, to find myself among the funky blankets, in the back bedroom, my hair crackling in the dry air, my little sister asleep beside me.

This is my signature poem. If I ever discover my Original Face, I might have a more lightsome one, but it will still include something of this poem.

Melancholy is allowed in life, it is one of the weathers of our Earth; and in fact this poem makes me very very happy, and always has done – in its birth, in its shaping, its revisions, its recitations. I’ve spoken it in coffee houses in California, a poetry festival in W. Yorkshire, on the BBC in London, in a room in Poona after brain surgery, in a grubby kitchen in Maui. Someone even handed me a pile of money on the strength of it. As well as being an example of ‘empathing’ or ‘fluid identities’, it is a celebration of the power of dreams and nightmares, and how day-life and night-life are not so different. It is a melancholy song of childhood, written when I was stepping out towards the unknown (for when you have no money, nothing can be known. That is the beauty of being poor in a rich country.)

This looking-back is also inevitable and of insistent value – we must digest our lives, even much later; we must look upon them with objective light and allow them to run away with us utterly – all in the same moment. That is the magic.

What I’ve learned since: You can sing about anything! Right now I’m thinking of Otis Redding’s “Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa – sad-sad song.” When you sing of sadness, it’s not really sad anymore, and yet it retains the dignity of sorrow. This sort of music is called The Blues, and is justly revered. You can put anything you like into the Blues, anything at all. I’m thinking of “Mean Ol’ Bedbug Blues.”

This poem is not really sad – the dying crow is imagined. When I recite it, I am swaying in a rapture of soft darkness, a rhythm of childhood perception of the strange commingling of death and beauty that walks with us every step of the way here on Earth. To sing about it is one of the best things we can do within this inherent duality; raise it up as an offering, packaged in rustic yearning. Dance it as best we can, as passionately as it will let us. This embrace of that commingling is what makes it something higher: something plaintive but recognized. Gives it back its light – the light that human recognition seems to bring.

Dark is light, if you cast your heart’s eye on it.

And: Those train dreams did not survive my years in the Commune. I’ve not had one for decades now.

The Teenage PoemsExcerpt from Vol 1. of Madhuri’s just released book
The Teenage Poems
available from or directly from the author:


Photo credit Jeff Huth


Madhuri is a healer, artist, poet and author of several books, The Teenage Poems being her latest one.

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