Home > Poetry > Self-Help for the Lost and Found
Published: Sun Jul 1 2007
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
Self-Help for the Lost and Found

Working out the riddle of the speaking crow
in my head and on the television some man
is reaching out to the world, saying Listen,
I have lived a terrible life and if you don’t
shape up you will die miserably. The end is not
the end is what the bird said, in a cage
beside a popcorn machine in this fantastic
flea market on the other side of the river.
I was looking at all the knives and living
my terrible life, because I like to look
at the sprawling array of replica swords
and switchblades and close my eyes where
in one instant I become Conan the Barbarian
or some fearless gang leader on the south side
of Chicago. But the crow brings me out
of this and the dullness of the blade’s edge
becomes apparent, but there is still this
sharp-as-hell ideal of a something in my mind
for the rest of the day. And so what does
that mean, anyway, the end is not the end,
and why do I put so much stock in what
a bird is probably just parroting, and a crow,
especially, because if this were a Macaw
it would all be much more humorous, or less
dark, I don’t know, I don’t even know anymore
which blade-touting heroes are historical
and which are something else. But on television
this poor bastard has gone through hell according
to his self as source and a cameo by his ex-wife,
whom he loved dearly until sticking a fork
in her leg one night while high on meth
for the twentieth day straight. I knew a guy once
to stay on the shit for almost thirty days,
and at first he was like this magic go-go machine,
and then he slowed down some, and then it was
like he was looking at this entirely different world
behind everything else, and then one day he
opened a door and left forever. Maybe that’s
what the bird meant—that on the other side
the world keeps going, too. Or maybe the crow
was speaking at the linguistic level, and in saying
that the end was not the end simply meant
to point out the arbitrariness of language as some
ironic meta-commentary on its situation
as the speaker who speaks from another source.
I have no idea honestly, though that’s not
exactly correct either because about many things
I have a thousand ideas. When you walk out of a lot
of these flea markets, it’s kind of similar to walking
out of those enormous gothic churches, of walking
out of the darkness and into the light. The best
thing every time is how surprised you are
at what time of day it really is, and how alive
in a completely different way the rest of the world
becomes, and always was so far as you can tell.
There’s something about both sides that sadly
reaches out for the other. Like the way
the crow, in its dark little corner beside
the impostor knives and impostor colognes,
continues forever to say the same thing
and everything over and over. On the television
this guy says that we can never go back.
That he’s looked and there are no time machines.
But if we’re lucky, he says, we can find
something in life to cling to, to hold
and never let go. As if the clinging itself
will get you to tomorrow. Or if not tomorrow
than at least to the other side of today.

Clay Matthews is the author of two collections of poetry, Superfecta (Ghost Road Press, 2008) and Run Off (Blaze VOX Books, 2009), as well as several chapbooks. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, AGNI, The Laurel Review, H_NGM_N, and elsewhere. (updated 6/2010)

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