Crow Surgeon

by Shannon McArthur


Second only to watching a branch slowly drift up-river, was this singular occurrence that seemed more performance art than the actions of an animal. To allow it to fade into memory seemed very wrong and how fast it came together was confirmation that a poem was needed.  It is now one of my favourite stories.

Crow Surgeon

Sitting by the river, watching the water flow –
and the curious behaviour of a big black crow…

He found a big worm and hopped on a rock
(as big as an altar had he been of the cloth)
Snipped off the head – or was it the tail?
to get to the goal he sought was there.

Like a surgeon, he cut down half the length of the worm
his beak was his scalpel and he combed and he probed and
he spread what he found about like a fan.
In awe we saw his focus and care and wondered
the purpose he laboured so there.
Isn’t a worm a passable dinner?
It seemed big enough to fill a crow belly…

But it wasn’t for dinner, and he carefully continued
until his purpose was done.
The object he sought, his surgery revealed,
I swear it appeared to be a little black pearl.

His beak was ajar, so gently he held it.
So precious it seemed – what could it have been?
Was it a heart, or a pearl yet unknown
that only grows deep inside of a worm?

After he’d gone we checked out the rock;
there should be some evidence for sure, so we thought.
We saw the remains set out as described: the short bit cut off;
the long part half-slit, and then combed wide.
We agreed it to be the weirdest darn thing
and we went back to sit back and watch, as we’d been…
A short conversation about where he had gone
and the purpose he’d put to the pearl that he’d found.
With a smile we decided a use for the pearl –
as she is a crow, what a gift for his girl!

Along about then, the time came to be
that we’d look once more at the worm body.
But other than ichor, a smear and no more
remained from the surgery performed there before.
Instead of for dinner, that worm became
twice what he was, as none remained.
No oyster lives through the search for a pearl;
No murder was done for this black one –
A wonder to ponder, as the river flows…

Since that time, I’ve come to know the secret implied by the Surgeon Crow,
But that’s a story for another day, it’s time for me to be on my way!

The poem has never been completely finalized – the last line changes with the circumstances and I had to have a few life lessons before the verse could be written. Because of those lessons, I asked questions I never would have asked and learned to see things from a different perspective.  Like, it could have been magic that made that big branch float up-river but, thinking about it and looking again with fresh eyes, I could see that under the water a beaver was swimming hard, taking home a feast for his family!

UPDATE: May 2019 – the jewel that he found could, perhaps, have been created just like a pearl in an oyster, or a kidney stone in one of us! It could have been formed of one of the things an earthworm eats: mycobacterium vaccae, known for its beneficial effects on mood. It is part of what gave rise to Our Heart Gardens, a concept that seems to be creating itself now, through many of us… a network of places where we come together to share and grow food, heal, and create strong relationships.