The Livelihood of Crows
In her latest collection of poetry, Jayne Pupek, who brought us Forms of Intercession, shows that she still knows how to rivet readers.
The Livelihood of Crows swells with fresh phrases and unique images, making it difficult to select just a few favorite lines from the collection. In “Skeptic in Apt 23,” “loneliness / reaches its peak season, it tastes like neon lights / short circuiting on my tongue.” “Census of Seagulls” turns faith into a “paper bag I breathe into when air is scarce.” In Pupek’s world “leaves gossip in the wind,” “jars of pearl onions glisten like small moons,” “beige taproots fondle each other without asking” and “abundance is found in the fusion of our mouths.”
As indicated by the title, birds take a prominent role in Pupek’s most recent poems. Crows “vie for positions along the roofline,” gulls form white umbrellas and blackbirds swallow morning. A pet parakeet helps a woman to deal with abortion, while seagulls swoop overhead “watchful as midwives.”
In the title poem, crows and crow imagery serve to depict the speaker’s affair with a man named Jackson. The speaker explains the livelihood of crows by saying “we are all replicas.” When Jackson returns to his sick wife, the speaker watches “the red eyes of your taillights disappear” and the “crows divide the sky into halves.”
“Prayer of the Drowned Woman” features a woman who asks to be plucked from the ocean floor and put back together with “sparrow bones and glue.” Meanwhile, seagulls circle nearby and cry for buttered corn. The bird imagery continues when the speaker reminisces about being “fed on collected / berries passed mouth to mouth.” Through these illustrations, the poem highlights the ways in which we lose our ability to breathe.
Pupek also examines some hot-button political issues such as terrorism and economic decline. “Terror is the new catch phrase. Were we always afraid and didn’t / know it? / The fairytales told to us as children may have been the first acts of terrorism,” she writes in “At the Gallery: New Artists’ Series.” “Recession Song” explores forfeited dreams as “stars dim in the haze of foreclosure” and “clocks tick on in sync.”
There is no shortage of beauty in this collection that was crafted by a poet who’s mastered the art of infusing words with a rhythm that haunts and surprises.