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This poem documents an experience that took place when I was about 13 years old.

Blackbirds, a poem by Darlene Witte

The events unfolded as described. I found the experience difficult to remember, you will see why as you listen, but when I recently thought to explore the metaphysical (totemic) relationship of blackbirds to human beings, I was able to make sense of the whole. Calling from the gateway between the worlds, the hypnotic song of blackbirds awakens the psychic mind, and teaches us how to use our own inner voice for healing. I’ve included more of the story in my memoire, Notes on Hunger.

(Revision July 12, 2013)
The cat was black, sleek, elusive, wiry, worried.
She arrived in the night,
sought shelter in a big old bent red barn hunched at the top of a hill

Perhaps, to her, it looked like it could be warm. 
Perhaps it reminded her of cows and fresh milk.
But the cows were long gone. 
There was no warmth to be found there, not even though it was early summer.
The cat did not ask for human contact.
Just shelter. 
She birthed six kittens, or maybe more. 
It was hard to tell, it was hard to find them. 
They hid. 
They were sinuous, secretive. Wild.
As they grew, the strongest of the kittens disappeared, by ones and twos
along through the tall, wind-ruffled grass
they slipped slantwise down the hill.

One night, summer wore itself away
the wind lowered its breath
became a fine holy edge of ice-driven, cold
under the withered edge of the grey, northern sky
as the mother cat, herself, slid away
slantwise down the hill
under the withered edge of the grey, northern sky

Two kittens remained, half-grown, like me, alone.
They came to me, alone in the house, crying at the kitchen door. 
I had nothing to feed them.  I had little to feed myself.
I could not help them. 
I found grain in that lifeless old barn, tucked under the base of the wall.
Mouse-ridden, matted, sour.
I boiled some, gave it to them, but they could not eat it, 
they writhed, mewing, begging on the broken porch
in their black cat skins. 
We were thin, so thin. 
Above, on an electrical wire, a line of blackbirds chattered. Watched. 
There were five birds, or seven. I don't remember.
(Why don't I remember?)

Perched overhead, they heard our complaints, 
saw the three of us,
saw the bloom of feral, fetid, shadows willowing around our feet. 

The blackbirds parsed our cries,  
rode the pulse of the humming wire overhead, waiting for sacrifice
priests poised between the worlds. 

The cats and I, all three of us, shades of
driven darkness
pushed by hunger, by cold, beyond caring.  

One young cat broke free, 
scrambled, stretched, ascended the power pole,
drawn by the hummm of the wires
lured by the murbling song of the birds.

her claws dug deep into the old wood
She whined along with the hummmm, 
stepped forward, paws placed with cool intent.
Fire leapt through her small body;
the blackbirds lifted up, then set back down.
The second cat followed the first, up the wooden pole
pulled, powered by the wire's hypnotic, deadly thrum.
Left me there, alone. Their bodies flat and still. Fallen.
They were grounded. Freed.
I froze.
From that moment on, for decades, 
I felt nothing. Heard less.
My voice locked within me.
Sorrow closed my inner door.
I stepped back. 
Stepped away from the fire that brought the cats, me

Why didn't I follow where the cats led?
What held me there (so alone) in my father's house,
that hungry, cold place?

Why didn't I follow the cats into self-chosen fire?
(There are so many gates, so many consuming fires
for the lost, the alone, the feral.)

Perhaps I waited too long, hoping for the best,
while hunger taught me that I belonged nowhere, to no-one. 

Not until decades later did I emerge from my utter, cold silence.
Not until decades later did my voice begin to flow.

When I began to awake I found myself standing
at the gateway between worlds, 
with my name etched
in the secret chambers of mother earth,
deep, deep in the quiet.

I heard blackbirds then, but as I began to move upward through the earth, it was the voice of Crow that called me forward.
Darlene Witte
Darlene Witte

Professor of Education, (retired) at Johnson State College in Vermont leads the Green Mountain Writers' Poetry & Performance workshop that meets on Zoom each month on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays at 7 PM ET. Find out more at

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