By Phillip Scott Mandel
“There is something typically American about the crow, for this black rascal has successfully fought his way along through the years meeting all natural, as well as man-made, obstacles with an uncanny strength, born of united action.”
– Charles Stanhope Adams, Hunting Crows Year Round (1953)
My past shall not be prologue to my present. Moments of true discovery are rare and should be cherished: the awakening of soul, the opening of eyes. Ah, we’re all now so jaded. There’s nothing we don’t know and yet, still we are surprised; like the crow is a much larger thing than you realized, so was her heart. You were so sharp, so quick, so cunning. Her love was humble, a dull, blunt thing. Dishonest words so easily flowed off your tongue. A shame to shoot such fine birds, just to satisfy the lust to kill something so large.
The horror. She was a falling leaf, allowed herself to be persuaded. There’s no sport in taking advantage of the old or young; like firing up into the nest of a crow and seeing the defenseless young blown up and apart. Oh, the sin of lust, and all it guarantees. You allowed yourself to be manipulated. Be warned fairly that a taste of successful crow hunting is like being exposed to an incurable disease, but one that is, by no means, unpleasant.
The moment I found Hunting Crows Year-Round I knew, this is for me, because I am a collector, a hoarder, a thieving magpie of the arcane and unique and totally useless, and its clean, intact dust jacket meant it had been cared for; someone went out of their way to by this sadistic little book and kept it lovingly on their shelf for decades, perhaps referring back every now and then, like ol’ Keats consulting Chapman’s Homer. It’s a first printing, too, though, of course, it was never printed again. The book was published a year after my mother was born; an antique, which means my mother is an antique. A relic from a bygone age, a woman playing games on a computer who feels the need to justify: “I just like to play my games, it relaxes me.”
The horror. No matter how much you prepare for what you think are inevitabilities, you will always be surprised.
You’re a bad man, Mandel, and I wonder, when did I become a bad man? Now I’ve become the kind of man I wouldn’t let near my own daughter. Used to be such a nice boy, didn’t I? Never wanted to hurt anyone. Cried easily. Spent hours grieving the less fortunate and the dead. I played it off as such a perfect ruse, the actor: I was innocent, I was hurt, I was humiliated, I turned my fury inward, but in reality I was a crow, and everyone else was a songbird.
The horror. It never took that much for me to feel degraded. But the past is prologue and my childish wrath may augur the pain I’ve caused with wicked actions and spiteful words; let me not go into the field with the thought of slaughter. Spend hours making and unmaking and making the bed. For only sadists take pleasure in murdering crows.
I was married once upon a time, young lovers with such potential. My wife was paralyzed in my web of deceit, her heart a-flutter in her breast. I lied about my love and broke my promises; I lied about my actions and whereabouts; nestled in the fortress walls of her love, broad and mighty. I enjoyed the space between the phonemes i and lv and u but measuring the rate at which our certain utterances coalesced is how you calculate the differential. My downfall was her downfall.
The horror. Divorce was rebirth. Death gives life to maggots. Once upon a time, mythologies were considered essential; essential knowledge: something every man should know: like how to shoot a gun and hunt, how to hit and catch a ball. How to treat a woman, how to stay cool in a crisis. How to change a tire in the rain, how to be a pioneer. Make things, like Daedalus. Open doors, Janus. You swoon for Helen. You are ruined by Cressida. You are comforted by Isis. And always subject to the whims of Aphrodite.
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