Well, the crows, they go in there and catch baby rattlesnakes.
They'd have em over for lunch.
Then line the nest with skin 'n bones.
Skin 'n bones. Skin 'n bones. Id'n it far out?
I been tryin to write a song about it ever since.

-Guy Clark

It only takes two to make a murder.
Two to betray the purpose of the rest.
It only takes one dream to build out of hope a nest in your mind.
One note of Edelweiss to disrobe the night of pretense.
One scent to dam the river of this moment
and uncover the nations of your past.

In the thick air of a dark morning, you sing a promise.
The earth tilts, buries your song in the snow.
All over, life moderates.
The body clicks along its tired routes.
How many regrets would you say the soul can sustain
before it sheds its wings?

Sometimes I'm overwhelmed to recall that I am living this unprecedented life.
No one can overrule my path. Maybe no one can save me when I dive over the
Each pause in the conversation is a new moment.
Each moment is a room whose door I can close behind me.
I hold three deep breaths for seven seconds and exhale for eight.
Somewhere in Seoul, a woman steps out of the shower
and the day is again fresh with possibility.
She might jump soaking into her bed and nap til Friday, drink a liter of beer at the
corner store, hop a ferry across the East Sea.
I might sell my house, redeye to Vienna, busk my poems & my father's songs at the
I've been trying to write about poem about Grampa at Normandy
ever since I watched Alzheimer's strip away hunger,
children, the perfect bocce toss, leaving only skin & bones.
Skin & bones, skin & bones.
This isn't that poem, but here he is on the page.
Here you are considering the death he cleaned—
limb by organ by pint—from the beach,
and his own death, which he suffered daily for years.

You might be wondering where this poem is going,
but it's starting to lose its feathers.
The birds are flying alone now. Their nests have fallen
to the undergrowth. I want to give up,
but if I leave this poem to the crows, I continue to close all my doors.
If I leave this poem, Grampa becomes another memory—
the story of a life muted by questions
I never bothered to ask.

It only takes two to make a murder.
It only takes one generation to let the past wither.
It only takes silence to declare yourself complicit.
It only takes one regret to gather the bracken of a life
like every crow has come to roost
at your front door.

  • The title & epigraph come from Darrell Scott's Down to the River.
  • My grandfather, James McCarthy, was part of the U.S. Army's Graves Registration Units in World War II. Their responsibilities were to locate, identify, & bury their fellow soldiers. For many years—and not until after he began suffering from dementia—he refused to speak of his experience in the war.