Saturday, June 16, 2012

Some Free Association

 I’m writing this sitting on a bench in the sun in the park, and a crow just landed on a tree in front of me. (It would be so literature to be able to say “the Crenellated Hemlock in front of me,” but I’m a city boy and I don’t know one tree from another. Where I grew up you took the subway to get to where there were trees.)

Anyway, the crow started sounding off, and I discovered it had a number of distinctive calls. If you’re more rural than I am this may not be news at all. It may not even be interesting, but I go on.

The bird would first give out two short bursts, which I guess by general agreement we’ve translated into to our language as “caws.” It did that at intervals of probably half a minute, three or four times. I started to think it was maybe an invitation for friends to come around, because after those several times with no visible result, it gave out a single (and I swear, dejected) caw. And a little after that, it did what I can only describe as a gurgle. Then it left.  

I tried to think of what William Saroyan might have done with that. I’ve always admired his stuff. I read his “Time Of Your Life” all the way through standing up in front of the library shelf where I’d randomly picked it up. I was hooked right at the cast of characters: “Blick: A Heel.”

I have a little Avon Book, “48 Saroyan Stories,” from Avon Books’ 25-cent days. It’s like a medieval manuscript other people would keep in an air-conditioned room, handling the crumbly pages with white gloves.  The incidental stuff alone is fascinating: the publisher’s inside-cover introduction to the New Avon Library; the reviews from prominent newspapers (the New York Herald-Tribune and others); the terrific leftwing dedication; Avon Books Company’s back-cover paean to their little volumes’ format (ideal as gifts to the Armed Forces) signed off with a New York address that hadn’t yet even thought about having a Zip Code.  Maybe I’ll print some of that stuff one time.

Saroyan would have spun a wonderful story off of that crow. Me; all I could think of was morbid symbolism “That bird, cawing futilely – is that me, blogging into the wind?”  I thought of Poe and his raven, and found frightening parallels: the crow, the poor man’s raven; me, the beggar’s Edgar Allen Poe.

And remember -- nobody in a Poe story comes away happy.  “The walls are closing in on me” --  just an expression, right?  Not if you’re in a Poe story.  One of his guys barely gets out of the way of a falling house. Another one invites a friend over for a drink and even that turns out bad. Poe is depressing. I’m surprised there wasn’t a whole murder of crows in that tree.