“One for Sorrow” by Carmel Buckingham

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2020: Artist’s Choice


Black and white photograph of a cairn of smooth stones with a bird in the background

Image: “Dream Spirit” by Christopher Whitney. “One for Sorrow” was written by Carmel Buckingham for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2020, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Carmel Buckingham


A crow once gifted me
pine needles tucked into a paperclip.
She left it on my windowsill, right beside
the birdfeeder. I think about love languages,
about how long it’s been since I’ve felt
the smooth warmth of another’s skin,
firm muscle wrapped around me,
heavy and solid and safe.

Did you know crows can recognize faces?
She definitely knows me, she lets me get close,
she’s brought me more gifts—a Stella Artois
bottle cap, a glittering earring, a screw head,
and a few shiny pebbles.
I stack them inside, right by the window,
so she can see that I’ve kept every one.
I wonder if she’d recognize me with a smile,
she’s never seen me like that.

Crows stay faithful to their partners
until one of them dies. I only ever see her
on her own. I wonder if she hasn’t found
her partner yet, or if she is mourning
after a lover now lost.

Crows recognize voices too, so I sing to her
when she visits. Sometimes I crack open
a pomegranate and she pecks at the arils
right in front of me. I wonder if she sees
the stones behind my window; I wonder if
she knows she’s the reason I’m still here.

She always flies away, wings black as midnight,
sails into the sky. I wonder what it is about
people like me, who love spiders and crows,
who let dandelions conquer the garden, who
keep the one-eyed teddy bear, and sand the
shattered glass.

I am a defender of all the other broken things,
unwanted things, forgotten things,
things the world finds monstrous, worthless,
things that I find kindred. She deserves
her hazelnuts, to hop from foot to foot, she
deserves to exist.

And when she brings me another stone,
gray with shimmering specs of silver,
and sets it outside of my window,
I think, maybe I deserve that too.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2020, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Christopher Whitney: “As I read and re-read the poems, this one kept coming back to me, stayed on top of the pile. I think of the day I made the photo, on a beach near Monterrey with two other photographer friends, each looking for his own shot the way the poets each looked for their way to respond to my image. In ‘One for Sorrow,’ the poet captured imagery the way I tried to do in my photo. There is a personification to the bird that brings me into the narrator’s story, lets me sit with him/her at that window, looking out and trying to see a glimpse of myself in the other, of peering into nature to answer life’s questions and then realizing the answers are in the simplest things, like the bird’s gifts. I enjoyed the flow of the poem, each stanza a gift to the whole, giving life to the crow as the crow gives life to the narrator.”

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