How to relate the everyday to poetry while in the act of being the poem. Working my way underneath this city I love, I latch onto a dragon's back circumnavigating the subway system during the week.

The mass of suits and perfume crammed through corridors burrowed beneath concrete reminders, swimming the juice-pulse through the city's membrane. Underneath all that motion, the subway vibrating all those spirits up through rock and metal. Creeley's "Chasing the Bird": 'The sun sets unevenly and the people / go to bed. / The night has a thousand eyes. / The clouds are low, overhead. / Every night it is a little bit / more difficult, a little / harder. My mind / to me a mangle is.' My daily commute from the green of the Hudson Valley to the grey of Manhattan skyscrapers, accented during harvest time.

Our garden which began with such promise this Spring gradually suffered neglect over the summer. My wife and I, still getting our 'green' on after moving up here from the city, are learning a solar definition of odds with the city definition I grew up with. After so many years walking to work, from the East Village to Soho, my separation anxiety from the city has settled into a complex groove, a sort of misplaced territory that has become the travel itself. The hope of permanence beyond the change...highlighted by the prospect of land, soil, earth in my fingernails. We have this huge fenced-in garden, inherited from the previous owners, which had a variety of veggies planted in the Spring, doing okay...until the exhaustion of weeding (clever tricksters how they assume shapes of neighboring plants, the easier to pass right over them) and watering proved overwhelming. And there was Tim, the lawn guy, with his giant machine mowing down the overgrown rupture for us. And there we were yesterday, looking at this dried-out wound, resolved to its conclusion, remembering that potatoes had been planted in the center. A spark of hope. Sun came out, as if saying, 'go for it.' The three of us, digging through the potato patch, unearthing spud after spud. Russian Fingerlings, Yukon Golds, Red Pontiacs, 80 potatoes in total...fantastic! What farmers we were...below the surface anyway. And then the crows.

Hundreds of them, a murder of crows. They've been gathering over the last month, in the trees and land in front of the house, just a few here and there. Until yesterday, before the potato episode, I looked out front in the morning and was shocked to see hundreds of them. A gang, I thought, before murder. I immediately recalled Ted Hughes' book, Crow, and its alchemical allegories. One of the first books of poetry in my lunch bag thanks to Steve Cannon, who ran The Stoop workshops with Bob Holman before the Friday Night Slams at the Nuyorican...those workshops were my salve, a guiding light from stage to page. I'd forgotten about the poems in that book, how phantasmic the protaganist seemed. Battling the sun back 'when  crow was white' emerging defeated and black, yet managing 'up there, where white is black and black is white, I won.' A chilling declaration of will over being.

I worried that our home had attracted such a large number, investigated online to make sure their myth aligned with mine. One of, if not the smartest of all birds, deemed the Trickster in folk tales, signifying change. The keeper of sacred laws, able to bend the laws of the physical universe, asking you to "shapeshift" your current reality into one of your dreams. Heady stuff. So I guess they weren't so bad, but the Hitchcock reality got me spooked. I went outside and flapped my arms a bit, just to scare them away. The intelligence of a six-foot scarecrow in a red hoodie, chasing the bird, doing my job to protect family, up here during harvest time.

Originally Published: October 11th, 2009

A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...

  1. October 12, 2009
     Barbara Jane Reyes

    Hi Edwin, I like this post. In West Oakland, with its pit bulls, guns, and packs of gangsta pigeons, I also worry over how to maintain a garden, with topsoil in this heavily industrial area makes me a skeptic, but I think about my little garden and creative process. A student once asked what I do when I can't write, and I told him I had to engage other creative possibilities.

  2. October 12, 2009
     Edwin Torres

    hi Barbara, you know, the notion of gangsta pigeons is a lot more real to me than a gathering of big Hollywood birds in the backyard. I can imagine a turf war between the slick city birds I grew up with, with their knives and cell phones, against these larger brutes with their Home Depot shopping carts and paper clip beebee guns. And the garden has absolutely helped unclog creative spores, that vibration with earth...whole and affirming.

  3. October 14, 2009
     Urayoan Noel

    Good stuff, Edwin. I'm feeling the line "a sort of misplaced territory that has become the travel itself." Very New York, and very Boricua of course. It also connects to my own experience of NYC-upstate traffic/transit.\r

    Could it be that this kind of uprooting/rerouting is good, or even necessary, for one's creative evolution (hippie as that sounds)? You know, thinking of bodies/voices/texts as "mispaced territories," as inseparable from "travel itself." \r

    On a lighter note, the image of the city poet communing with the potatoes while crows hover is pretty funny; I'd say it's like a Nuyorican Jean de Florette (not to be confused with Juan Flores).

  4. October 14, 2009

    I know those crows. I always think of them as raucous football fans, rah-rahing the wind (probably because I grew up in a blue-collar town). If it's any consolation, I've come to view them as a good omen.

  5. October 17, 2009
     Edwin Torres

    ura - yeah the notion of territory as travel is the immigrant experience, no? although i'm from here, and puerto rico's over that i'm upstate, my home city has become 'over there' too...a creative evolution has to be in motion to get anywhere, right? so there is some justice in the misplaced soul...

  6. October 17, 2009
     Urayoan Noel

    Edwin - I was thinking in Boricua-specific terms but also in terms of where we are now vis-a-vis poetry/culture. In the post-2.0 buzz, the old media are losing their sheen (first CDs and now, some might say, books) so that as poets we are left with little more than the meaning-making potential of our bodies... kinda like the declamadores, the folk poets and jibaros who were also displaced farmers... back to square one, tu sabes. \r

    In that context, poetics becomes a function of the particular places we identify with, whether your garden upstate or the Noricua backyard in the South Bronx. Put another way: no matter how hip we think our site-specific experiments are, we're all just "garden variety" jibaros trying to make sense of the crows.\r

    Quoth Candide: "let us cultivate our garden."

  7. October 18, 2009

    Enjoyable reading. Funny how meditations on a crow (or two) tends to come around to evoking Trickster. Ravens do the same for me too. As do coyotes.\r