“The Crow” By Kevin Finn

(This review originally appeared on the Ampersand Books blog.)

Poems about crows, like crows themselves, appear everywhere, brusque heralds of mortality. Here’s a good one from Exit Wounds, a short chapbook by Kevin Finn, a native of Pittsburgh:

The Crow

I look out over
tall grass,
and know its name:
the black wings,
black throat
black eyes.
I can’t stand
to hear its song—
guitar strings
scattered, unwound.

I collect trash,
add wood as it turns to coals.
I am close to the ground,
bathe in a stream that runs
clear over orange
mineral deposits—
mine runoff.

I have no shelter
/the sky, grey/.

You came up here
from Helena to die,
case of beer, bottle of Old Crow.
You see writhing snakes/

Under blankets,
you fold your black wings.

I don’t care for the slant marks because I don’t know how to read them. As parentheses? As pedals to speed up? Slow down? Or, more likely, as poetic syntax that I’m just not familiar with. But otherwise I’m with this poem from beginning to end. I appreciate the flourishes held in check until the right moments—such as the sound of the crow’s song as “guitar strings/scattered, unwound,—the simple straightforwardness in the short lines, the bold announcement in “You came up here/from Helena to die,” This poem covers a familiar subject, yet packs its own punch. The same is true for all fifteen pieces in this book. They have a tough romanticism, kicker endings, moments of poignancy stretched long enough to impress us anew with the powers of plain English. Several poems address “The Mental Illness Business.” Many take place outside under the open sky. A few hint at love. Here’s a line from “Sun Koan” that stopped me in my tracks. This poem segues from a description of a kiss into one of a manta ray passing through a school of fish as “the water, clear, parts to the long assassin.” That’s as good a description as any of how these poems work.

A good book. A heartfelt book. Enjoy it.

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