All Morning the Crows
by Meg Kearney
102 pages ~ 51 poems
Publisher: The Word Works
ISBN: 9781944585440
To Order:

Winner of the 2020 Washington Prize!

Birds have accompanied Meg Kearney throughout her life, though she does not
think of herself as a birder. She begins the Preface to All Morning the Crows
with a memory of standing "next to my mother, watching blue jays chase off the
chickadees, cardinals, and juncos vying for time at the feeder…" hoping above
all for the cardinals to return as her mother especially loved them. She hints,
still in the Preface, that this collection of bird poems is not really about
birds, but a story she needs to tell—her own story that begins with a different
mother, a first mother who gave her up as a baby, evidence of her sin. Birds
provide a way into and out of the story, a way to tell and not tell:

   It was a crow first taught
   how to pry a thing open—snatch
   a stick to leverage a headstone or widen
   the hole in a rotten pine's trunk
   to get at the story inside.

It is not a simple story, and since it weaves in and out of bird lore and poems
written in the third person where it's not clear which chapter we're reading,
which mother or daughter is the endangered heroine, it's difficult to piece
together what happened or in what sequence. That's not the point, as Kearney is
not writing a memoir, though I found myself trying to connect the poems into a
coherent narrative as the poet may also have done:

   I can't pour this bird seed from a cup
   to feeder without seeing my mother
   pour a Scotch. I

That's the second mother, the one who watched blue jays, chickadees, juncos and
cardinals with her adopted daughter, and these lines are from a poem about
juncos. There are blue jays in the poems, too, eye-catching men given to
violence, and generations of dependence on alcohol or drugs. A poem given to
chickadees, in the mountains where she is so lonely that "she thinks the
chickadee returns her call" and where her own emptiness echoes "with the
footsteps of her dead./Her father. Two mothers. Lately, too many/friends." Back
in the city, "the dead are the air we breathe" after the Twin Towers fall,
carrying their humans down with them.

It is when the dead are too hard to live with that the poems retreat into the
White Mountains of New Hampshire, one of Robert Frost's homes, where Kearney has
her notebooks and her books as company, a black dog at her side. Before the dog
grows too old to wander the trails with her, they search together through the
woods for a thrush, the bird she dreamed "singing in the cage my bones make."
Here is a poem about letting go, perhaps of the lost song, perhaps of the
bitterness in the stories, or the ambition to rival the great poets like Frost
himself who have "already given us the thrush."

The collection ends with the everyday sparrow, a stand-in for the soul according
to Saint Bede. Despite her fluttering faith, Kearney hopes that when her story
is over and she returns as dust to dust, the sparrows may come to bathe with her
in that dirt:

   May we fling that fresh earth skyward,
   then lift our faces as it rains back down.

A bird fact that Kearney doesn't include in the collection: chickadees do feel
curious about humans. They will light on your hands even when you do not carry
seeds to feed them, just to see what you are doing. I like to think the
chickadee really was returning the poet's call, up in those poetry-infused
—Susanna Lang, Review for RHINO,


Meg Kearney draws on her acute powers of observation, a lively curiosity and
her gift for gorgeous imagery to take us on a journey of personal exploration,
discovery, and reconciliation.   These surprising poems bring together the
parallel but discreet worlds of human beings and birds, which talk to each
other across the gulf between them. Constantly engaging, deeply satisfying,
with a knowledge of birds and their behavior sufficient to satisfy even the
most demanding birder, but never alienating the casual observer, with wit,
musicality, and her own unflinching eye, Kearney gives us a page-turner we
want never to end, its subject being the work in progress which is life and
its abundant mysteries.
—Andrea Carter Brown, Series Editor, author of The Disheveled Bed and Domestic Karma

This book goes well beyond a metaphoric treatment of birds and their habits.
Instead, their differing characteristics comprise a jumping-off point for a
mythology of selfhood—a lens through which to examine and confront a personal
history. The catalog of birds illustrates how happenstance and speculation
determine who she is. Untranslatable and mysterious as any mythology, a various
history of a changeable self accumulates in these inventive, charged, and often
ecstatic poems. Meg Kearney's poems both delight and complicate—at heart a
spirit as unknowable and evocative as the birds themselves.
—Cleopatra Mathis, author of After the Body and Book of Dog

"Before I was born I was biggest of the clutch, already a burden / and slow to
hatch," Meg Kearney writes in her long-awaited and remarkable bird book—
which is about birds and so much more. Against the backdrop of her parents' death, the
trauma of the Towers, and pervasive self-doubt, a young woman traces her history
of flight, offering a narrative of heartbreak spliced with humor and filtered
through the raucous assemblages of birds which inhabit her, "singing in the cage
my bones make." If birds provide music ("She just likes to say grackle, a crack
-your- / knuckles, hard-candy word") and spiritual sustenance ("the soul is a
sparrow"), they also allow the narrator to negotiate her habitat: "'Bird
seed—it's in your hair,' / my mother said, reaching for me." Meg Kearney has
crafted a dazzling book of personal transformations, moving and memorable.
—Michael Waters, author of The Dean of Discipline and Caw


In spring 2021, The Word Works Press published Meg Kearney's All Morning the Crows,
winner of the 2020 Washington Prize for poetry. Meg's most recent collection of poems
for adults is The Ice Storm a heroic crown published as a chapbook by Green Linden
Press in September 2020—it was in its second printing before month's end! Her most
recent full-length collection of poems, Home By Now (Four Way Books), was winner
of the  2010  PEN  New England  LL  Winship  Award;  it was also a finalist for the
Paterson Poetry Prize and Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year. The title poem of
Home By Now is included in Garrison Keillor's Good Poems: American Places anthology
(Viking Penguin 2011). Meg's first collection of poetry, An Unkindness of Ravens, was
published by BOA Editions Lt . in 2001.

Meg is also author of a trilogy of novels in verse for teens—all of which come with
teacher's guides: The Secret of Me  (Persea Books, 2005); The Girl in the Mirror
  (Persea Books, 2012); and When You Never Said Goodbye (Persea Books, 2017).
Her story "Chalk" appears in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories (Persea
Books 2011).

Meg's first picture book,  Trouper (the three-legged dog), was published by
Scholastic in November 2013 and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Winner of the 2015
Kentucky Bluegrass Award and the Missouri Association of School Librarians'
Show Me Readers Award  (Grades 1-3),  Trouper was selected as one of the
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People of 2014; one of the most
"Diverse and Impressive Picture Books of 2013" by the International Reading
Association, and one of the 2013-14 season's best picture books by the Christian
Science Monitor, the Cooperative Children's Book Center, and Bank Street College
of Education. It was also a 2013 Association of Children's Librarians of Northern
California Distinguished Book, and a Nominee for the 2014-2015 Alabama Camellia
Children's Choice Book Award (Grades 2-3).

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey chose Meg's poem "Grackle" for the
2017  Best American Poetry anthology.   Meg's poetry has also been featured on
Poetry Daily and Garrison Keillor's "A Writer's Almanac," and has been publish-
ed in such publications as Poetry, Agni, and The Kenyon Review. She has been
nominated for  a  Pushcart   Prize four times.   Her work also is featured in the
anthologies Where Icarus Falls (Santa Barbara Review Publications, 1998), Urban
 (Milkweed Press, 2000), Poets Grimm (Storyline Press, 2003), Never Before:
Poems About First Experiences
(Four Way Books, 2005), Shade (Four Way Books,
2006),  The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the
(Notre Dame Press, 2006), Conversation Pieces: Poems That Talk to Other
Poems (Knopf, Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series, 2007); Sinatra: But Buddy,
I’m a Kind of Poem
(Entasis Press, 2008), The Best of the Bellevue Literary
(Bellevue Literary Press, 2008), The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write
Bloody, 2013), and Double Kiss: Stories, Poems, & Essays on the Art of Billiards
(Mammoth Books, 2017). Her nonfiction essay, "Hello, Mother, Goodbye," appears
in The Movable Nest: A Mother/Daughter Companion (Helicon Nine Press in fall
2007). She is also co-editor of Blues for Bill: A Tribute to William Matthews (Akron
University Press, 2005).

Meg is Founding Director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in
Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
For eleven years prior to joining Pine Manor, she was Associate Director of the
National Book Foundation (sponsor of the National Book Awards) in New York
City. She also taught poetry at the New School University. Early in her career, she
organized educational programs and conducted power plant tours for a gas &
electric company in upstate New York.

In 2019, Marge Piercy chose Meg's manuscript Bird (now titled All Morning the
) for the Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award (a cash but not publication prize
from Marsh Hawk Press). She is the recipient of an Individual Artist's Fellowship
from the New Hampshire Council on the Arts (2010-2011), and was a fellow at the
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in three times.  Recipient of 2001 Artist's
Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Meg also received a New
York Times Fellowship and the Alice M. Sellers Academy of American Poets
Award in 1998; the Geraldine Griffin Moore Award in Creative Writing from The
City College of New York in 1997; and the Frances B. DeNagy Poetry Award from
Marist College in 1985. She is a former poetry editor of Echoes, a quarterly literary
journal, and past president of the Hudson Valley Writers Association of upstate New

A native New Yorker, Meg currently resides in New Hampshire with her husband and
their rescued coon hound named Winston; their three-legged cat, Hopkins; and their
four-legged cat named Magpie.


by Meg Kearney

It was a crow first taught me
how to pry a thing open—snatch
a stick to leverage a headstone or widen
the hole in a rotten pine's trunk
to get at the story inside.


New York, 1999:

If our mother had kept you,
my newly found sister said,
you'd never have gone
to college. Wouldn't have done
a lot of things you've done.


Ornithologists claim crows have an innate sense
of fairness. One will scoff
at your proferred raisin, for example,
if you've given her sister two peanuts.

(If you've given her sister
away—that's a fact best kept cached
like the crows' scraps of roadkill
and white-oak acorns.)


I wasn't the first apprentice
to the crow, first to learn that old term
"crowbar." Handy for getting at grubs
and slugs or warding off a man
with a brick for a fist. Flip the bar
around to hook a beetle. But not
a mother. Not
a sister.


         —if she had kept me?


A rooster crows;
crows caw. Explain that,
and while you're at it, how
you came to laugh my mother's
laugh, my newly found sister said.
I said, I never claimed to be anyone's
interpreter. She said, Our, I meant to say
our mother.


Rhode Island, 1960:

Hear that? Crows are songbirds, too,
squawk the nuns in their choir loft.
See the one with a little silver cross
in her beak, jimmying the blue-gold window's
latch? That's her. My first mother.


Our mother told me,
my newly found sister said,
she went to Catholic boarding school.
I said, Well—the convent…

Our mother did not speak
a secret language. She spoke
the language of secrets.


As any ex-nun would tell you: the world
isn't simply black and white. Consider
a plum in a crow's mouth in sunlight.
Consider the nun's habit, sunk
to its knees in the confessional's
dark. Color of a broken vow,
iridescent as a cancer cell.


Apprentice, yes, I told
my newly found sister.
You have to work your way up
to ravens.


Corpses. Cemeteries. What many people think
when they hear "crow," also known as
the pall-bearer of souls.

By the time I found her, my first mother
had already been dead
seventeen years. Why was I
surprised? At her grave
I left a silver earring
for the crows to find.


Does anyone ever see a scarecrow and think
"crow"? Corn fields,
maybe. Or,
Father, is that you?


If you leave us, the nuns in Bristol
told my first mother,
you will die a terrible death.
But she stole a dress yellow
as a crow's eye plus
five hundred nickels.
Bought a ticket to Boston.

The dress? A newly arrived novitiate's.
"Crow's eye yellow"? Code
for so sexy it was in
the to-be-burned bin.


How did she go from Boston to New
York to Tucson? Why didn't she tell us
about you? my newly found sister wants
to know. She now thinks
I have the knowledge of crows.


From the crow's nest of her get-away ship
my first mother could have seen
nothing useful. Not the snake-charmer with his
charming snake or Prince Charming or how
a daughter can shrink to a name on a dotted line,
to one wide brown eye on the horizon
before falling off the edge
of her world.


In Scotland, crows are "corbies."
Grand-Dad never lost his brogue,
my newly found sister said.
She said she could still hear him singing
about the "twa corbies" who feast
on a dead knight's bonny-blue eyes.


When still in her Sister Gabriella disguise,
my first mother taught Kindergarten.
All those children, not one of them hers.
Snack-time milk box cost five cents.
Add it up.


Fact: crows can recognize human faces,
even remember them years later.

The first time I saw my mother in a photograph,
I thought it was some sort of trick
mirror. Hello, I said, I know you.


You are she
when I last remember her well,
my newly found sister said.


No place for a ship in Arizona, meaning
no daily departures leaving from Boston
or New York, where I was harbored. Was that
the allure? To be far from the Atlantic,
its relentless chant. Though the desert
is its own type of sea.

She was given a photograph of me to keep.
Grief came in waves like the heat.


On overcast days—before clocks—
Jews began the Sabbath
when crows came home to roost.
Crows don't need a timepiece—
sunset's when all the good stuff
starts to happen.


Arizona, 1983:

(This the story I've been told, with a few guesses thrown in.)

Round and around my first mother's deathbed
flew the Sisters of Bristol, that murder
of crows.
I have another daughter, she whispered
to her husband. Low, so her children
wouldn't hear.
He promised to find me. Thinking
this would make her live.


Told you so, chanted the crows
settling like a wreath at her feet.


How did she get to Tucson?
Some say the southern route, a brand-new
Corvair convertible.
I say she flew.


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