Mark Lucius is a writer and speechwriter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in Best American Sports Writing, Cafe Lit, Cowboy Jamboree, Fewer Than 500, Great River Review and elsewhere. He has received five Cicero Awards from Vital Speeches of the Day.
Not the Raven
by Mark Lucius
I said good night to my wife and returned to my study, only to find a bird fidgeting on the white wooden window sill. The summer breeze blowing through the window had turned chilly. I rubbed my eyes. When I opened them, the bird’s sleek black head had quieted.
The visitor looked up at me with black button eyes. I measured this bird as about the size of a football.
“Huh. A raven at my window at midnight?”
“Never,” said the bird. One black wing fluttered.
“You talk? Mynah bird?”
“Never,” said the bird. “You don’t know much about birds, do you?”
This was a circumstance I’d never imagined. A bird calling me out for my ignorance of birds.
“I mean for a guy who was an Eagle Scout,” said the bird in a sharp, clipped voice.
I sat down in my desk chair. “How do you know that?”
“I’ve been hangin’ around this block for about as long as you have. Word travels.”
Words travel, and birds travel, and what else did this bird know about me? It looked like a regular old bird with a beak like a wire cutter and feathers layered like armor. I figured if this bird wanted to hurt me, it would have done that already. I decided not to rouse my wife in the bedroom next door.
“You thought I was a raven because of that poem, right? ‘Midnight dreary?’ Poem dreary if you ask me,” said the bird, flicking its head left, center, right, like a quarterback searching for a receiver.
“The Raven? I guess. But that poem isn’t really about a raven.”
“I know that, and you know that, but most people don’t. I bet if you asked everyone forced to study that poem, most would tell you it’s some grand rave-up about some grand raven.”
“If you’re not a raven, what are you?”
“I’m a crow,” said the crow. “Rhymes with Poe.”
The crow edged stiffly along my window sill. “Do you mind if I help myself to those cookie crumbs?”
“Oh by all means, be my guest.”
The crow hopped and flew to the plate at the far edge of my desk. It pecked at the leavings of my midnight snack.
“May I ask what brings you here?” I asked, “I mean, besides the food.”
“You’re a PR guy, right?” the bird asked between bites.
“Four decades, right?”
“How do you know that? Oh, right, you’ve been hangin’ around the block.”
“It’s a nice block,” said the bird. “We like it here. The trees and all. But you’re the only PR guy I know. Your neighbors are just a bunch of college professors and attorneys.”
“Who can be very useful,” I replied. “Look, you’re acting cagey. Could you try getting to the point?” I was using up my inventory of bad bird puns.
“There’s a reason why I’ve been granted this rare privilege”—the crow sounded like a mockingbird—“of speaking your language. I’m looking for someone to help us crows improve our image with your fellow humans.” More mockingbird.
“I’m retired. Not looking for new clients.”
“There might be a few bucks in it for you. We pick up lots of coins along the way.”
“I’ll bet,” I said. “But I don’t understand. What’s wrong with your image?”
The crow lifted its head from the plate. “People… like ravens,” the crow said slowly. “They don’t like crows. Even though ravens are just bigger, shaggier and dumber.”
“Well, I hardly think…”
“I know, your kind hardly think about it.” The crow was snappish. “People only think of us as scavengers, nuisances, harbingers of doom and death.”
“You might be exaggerating…”
“Tell me, what’s the first thing you think about when you think about ravens?”
“Football team,” I said. “Baltimore Ravens.”
“Right. Why aren’t they called the Baltimore Crows?”
“I dunno. Maybe people just don’t like crows.” I rubbed my eyes again. All this pondering was making me weary.
The crow flew back to the window sill. Its neck twitched like Rodney Dangerfield wearing a shirt too tight.
“What else do you think about when you think about ravens?”
“A phrase, I guess. ‘Raven-haired beauty.’”
“Ha! And do you know how many results you get in that computer next to you when you search ‘raven-haired beauty?’”
“No, but I bet you do.” My laptop was beside me on the desk. I kept my eyes on the crow.
“220,000 hits. The first is about that singer, Rhianna, and the last time I checked she had dyed her hair blue.”
I’d reached the age when even a crow knew more about pop culture than I did.
“And how many hits do you think for ‘crow-haired beauty?’” asked the crow.
“I’d guess that would be none. But what would you have me tell my fellow humans about all this?”
The crow fluttered to the top shelf of my bookcase. Like a politician scrabbling for votes, the bird began to declaim. “Tell ‘em what your scientists say about crows. It’s there in that computer. They say we’re the most intelligent of all birds. Of twelve-hundred species! They say we’re more sophisticated than chimpanzees.”
The crow cocked its head, preening. “Sophisticated,” it said. “I like the sound of that.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “If you’re looking for a top hat, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
“Well, you can tell your fellow humans we’re more monogamous than people…”
“I’m not sure I’d hang my beak on that one.”
The crow ignored me. “I’m a family man myself,” he said.
“You have children?”
“Of course. My wife and I have had many. But understand, only half of all crows survive the first year of life.”
“So, for a crow, every day is a quest for survival?”
“Yeah. Why do you think we’re always looking for food? Scavengers, my ass. Do you have any more cookies?”
I unwrapped a bag of pretzels from my desk drawer and sprinkled a few on the plate. The crow jumped down to the desk for another bite.
“Everyday survival,” I said, “Crows just trying to get by. I think people can relate to that.”
I might as well have shouted: “What more do you have to crow about?”
The crow straightened and began strutting back and forth on my desk. Its head moved with knifelike swiftness as it unleashed a torrent of crow facts. Crows use tools! Crows teach their children well! Crow families span generations! Crows eat insects that destroy crops! When a crow dies, the extended crow family gathers for a memorial, a “crow funeral.”
This crow sounded like every client I had ever worked with. To him, his story was more urgent than any in all the world. But in the midst of his lecture, as the crow’s head bobbed and his feathers shuddered, I realized something. Here was a crow who wanted to be more than a crow. He was like all the humans I knew who longed to be more than human. A kid reading a Superman comic. Me in church on Sunday. He was us.
“Stop,” I said finally. “When a talking crow appears at my window, I guess I should take it as a sign. Maybe I can help a little. But one condition.”
The crow’s feathers glistened with sweat. “Condition?”
“You’re not going anywhere with an anti-raven campaign.”
“Wait,” said the crow, “you haven’t even heard my idea for a theme. ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the ravens.’”
“Clever,” I said, “But if you make people hate ravens, they’ll just hate you, too. You’ll all get tarred with the same feathery brush. Humans have the same problem. Two groups of people notice the slightest difference between them. Next thing you know, they’re at each other’s throats.”
“You just watch,” said the crow. “Ravens will catch wind of our campaign. They’re sneaky.”
I ignored him. “Think about what I said. Let’s get back together in a few days. But next time, please caw first.”
“You really think you’re funny, don’t you?” said the crow.
He flew away at dawn. I collapsed into bed and awoke my wife. I told her I’d spent the night talking to a crow.
“I imagine you did, dear,” she said.
I was tired all day and went to bed early that night. I woke up with my wife tapping me on the shoulder.
“Hey,” she said. “Someone here to see you.”
“Who? What time is it?”
“It’s late. There’s a talking bird at the window.”
“No! I told him to give me time to work.”
“Uh, this bird says you’ve never met.”
“You sure it’s a bird?”
“Of course I’m sure. Says it’s looking for some PR help.”
I threw on a robe and yawned my way into my study. Another bird, bigger than my friend from the night before, sat on the same window sill. This bird was rougher around the edges. I sat down at my desk.
“Huh,” I said, “a raven at my window at midnight?”
“Why yes,” said the raven, one black wing fluttering. “How did you know?”
“Just a wild guess,” I replied.
Copyright 2022 by Mark Lucius