I was hiking a
far northern woodland
a birch and pine forest one day,
When I spotted a black craven cringing
the fork of a sycamore tree.
Though he shrank
when he saw that I saw him
I hastened my step to go by,
He kept a cold, yellow eye on me
seemed just as wary as I.
I'd heard of the
craven in legend,
never had seen one so near,
And was glad when I'd gotten on by him
a little ashamed of my fear.
I shifted my load
to step lively
told myself not to look round,
But the scream that erupted behind me
a blow, put me flat on the ground.
I twisted about
and looked backward
the craven arose with a shriek
And a horrible flapping and flopping
made all my sinews go weak.
And I stared as
he breasted the thicket
crashed through a bower of thorn,
And I thought he looked back with his yellowy eye,
before I could tell, he was gone.
So I shouldered
my pack and plunged onward
the path disappeared in a wood,
And I tried to recall, as I stumbled along,
old legend, as best as I could.
In some dream or
some tale of my childhood,
were cravens that crouched by the way
Of the wilderness trav'ler unsure of his path,
lone pilgrim, his favorite prey.
But he wasn't a
vulture who'd pick out your eyes,
gnaw on your corpse like a mole.
The craven could eat you alive, in full stride,
the craven would feed on your soul.
But it's only a
story, I said to myself,
nothing to scare a real man,
And just then the trail came out of the woods
a path up a foothill began.
The peak I was climbing, Mt. Hero by name,
shrouded in mist to the west,
But I knew that the start of this foothill ascent
a sign I was well on my quest.
Over rocks and
arroyos I climbed for an hour
had just scrambled out of a swale
And was rounding a turn when I glanced up ahead,
the craven was there by the trail.
Not fifty feet
on, he was waiting.
yellow eye smoldered with wrath,
And he wasn't up high in some tree to the side.
was right on a rock by the path.
His fur, or his
feathers, I couldn't tell which,
as sable and black as a pit,
So black you'd have seen him a mile away,
matter where he might sit.
His beak pointed
down, but curled up at the base,
if he were ready to laugh.
And in size, he was...maybe...the size of a crow,
big crow, a crow and a half.
He held his head
low, between shoulders all hunched,
his evil eye peered from the dark
Of his body's black bulk with an orangy glow,
I thought I detected a smirk.
I stood there a
minute, unsure of myself
tried to come up with a plan.
He was big, but I'd seen him run off once before,
he wasn't as big as a man.
So I puffed out
my chest, and I marched straight ahead
I got within yards of the thing.
But the craven just sat there as still as a stalk,
made not a move to take wing.
So I stopped in
the path, and I squared myself up,
his eye nearly turned me to stone,
And I raised up my arms in a threatening bluff,
as loud as I could yelled, "BE GONE!"
But just as I shouted,
the craven unfurled
leathery wings from his back,
With four crooked fingers at each elbow joint
gnarly and bony and black.
Then his beak opened
wide, and he uttered a hiss
a gullet as orange as a torch,
Like the hiss a big possum had hissed at me once
surprised on my patio-porch.
Well, that tore it for me, and I lost it.
was seized by a terrible dread.
I lost it, I say, and I turned on my heel,
I threw down my pack, and I fled.
I fled down that
hill with my heart in my throat.
I heard myself shriek as I ran,
But the craven came flapping behind as I fled,
maybe the shrieking was him.
I ran till I came
to a cabin I'd seen
mile or so back, coming up.
And I slammed the door shut with a shriek that was mine,
the craven crashed down on the stoop.
I crouched in a
corner and sobbed for an hour.
blubbered and shuddered and shook,
For the craven kept scratching and pecking his beak
each cabin crevice and nook.
And he hissed and
he gurgled and flopped up and down
the porch to the roof to the back,
And I heard his toes scraping the shingles and boards
that lonely, abandoned old shack.
And after the scratching
had stopped for awhile,
crept to the window to see.
And just as I feared, the craven was there,
on the stump of a tree.
He was there all
that evening. He was there the next day,
the stump, or the porch, or the roof.
And whenever I put my nose out the door,
would squeak, or say "Oink," or go "Woof."
But the shack had
a stove and a tin plate or two,
green snails crawled up every night.
So...when the craven stayed put for a week,
ate snails, and just thought I'd sit tight.
Spring turned into
summer and summer to fall,
the craven was there every dawn.
But I got on OK, and I garnished the snails
crickets that crept from the lawn.
And when year led
to year, I made a career
warning the travelers instead.
And I painted a sign which I hung on my door.
OF THE CRAVEN," it said.
few, and those who came through
slow to take heed or obey.
Some would even ignore what I yelled from the door,
a craven here! Run! Run away!"
I heard one trav'ler say, "Who's that hissing?
that cabin? Let's hurry on by.
I can't quite make out what he's hissing about,
I don't like his yellowy eye."
are out there, my boys.
very afraid, or be caught!
By men, not taught by other men,
other men be taught.
So heed my advice,
all you trav'lers,
your schemes and your dreams and your goals.
There are cravens abroad in the countryside, lads,
they're waiting to feed on your souls.
Better keep your
head low, wherever you go.
and cover, and never stand tall.
Have a good place to hide. Never venture outside.
softly, and know when to crawl.
Never stick with plan "A" when you could run away.
all your doubts and your fears.
Let nobody in. Keep your snails in a tin,
the craven won't get you, my dears.