I motion the crows out, two by two, keeping their Youngsters back with me because it's the bargain We've made with the group, if they fight for us in the air We'll keep their children safe from the angels on the ground Crows will mob an eagle or a hawk Angels, as it turns out, are just sacred raptors Guarding no one and nothing except their piece of the sky Grounding planes and confusing targeting systems With EMP bursts from golden trumpets The few missiles that do break through are brought Down by their fiery swords Nothing made by man can touch them They taunt us with this fact, choirs of them Singing of invulnerability, using wing-wind to magnify the sound But crows aren't made by man but by the god these Monsters serve, and corvids fully embrace the concept That the enemy of my enemy is my ally Not that the angels are targeting birds But their fire falls indiscriminately, burning habitats In a way that makes humans look like destruction amateurs The resulting ash clogs streams, fills nests, ruins rookeries Coats feathers, suffocates young birds and the wise crones of the group I've cleaned off so many birds, watching ashy gray give way to Rainbow black, the sheen of oil playing out over feathers I'd Previously touched only when shed and left on the ground But now I've grown used to the feel of a beak on my skin Patient or not, gentle or not, battle by battle We are learning to speak crow the same way we Learned to speak cat or dog or horse By movements, by vocalizations, by attitude I hear a scream above me, corvid and angelic both And black and white wings are wrapped in a Peregrine-fast plunge to earth, more crows following Some on fire and I call the water teams over The crows still whole are pecking, going for eyes and the base Of the wings where angels seem to bleed the most easily The angel is stunned and one of our warriors kicks the fire-sword Out of the way and stabs the angel with a hearty branch Scavenged with care, any manmade enhancements make sticks useless We are becoming adept at searching nature for death Behind the fence that divides our compound from others There is a line of the faithful, wailing as the angel dies They kneel and chant that we will be damned A few pray that we will be saved, that we will see the angels As they do—a sign of the long-awaited end times, the harbingers Of the glory of their religion, of the glory of apocalypse We see nothing but how we must once have appeared To the rest of nature, before the angels took our place as apex predator Winged killers that fly high and care not at all that we Were once beloved of their god and their charges to look after Creatures so sick of their place in the natural order That they rebelled, fled Heaven, and waged war on us Or maybe it really was on the orders of their maker Maybe this is how it all ends, in fire and ash and the taunts Of supernatural beings we thought looked out for us Or at least didn't bear us any ill will, not like demons were supposed to Demons haven't appeared, no horns or claws or stench of sulphur Although if they fought with us, we'd probably take their help How long can we and our black-winged allies hold out? I hear the caw that means attack, I look up and see a new foe Being mobbed and I grab the branch I have killed more angels than I can count with and wait for the crows to bring this next one down The prayers from the fence get louder, someone yells that I'm a lost soul But overhead, crows scream louder and angelic blood drips down And I don't feel lost, I don't feel forsaken I catch a smoldering bird and dunk it in a water bucket before It can burn too much and it hops onto my shoulder, gently Creaking as it nips my cheek in thanks, then it's off again There is a clatter behind me, a child has gathered branches Stout things that should be beyond her ability to carry But we're so much stronger than we once thought She refills buckets and watches the sky, another pair of eyes A juvenile crow hops onto her shoulder and I see the future Superimposed on this present and it shines in multicolor hues Buried in raven black—if we can hold the line, might there be a World where bird and man move together, discovering victory In their unexpected unity? An alliance that took on the messengers Of a god and persevered when all seemed well and truly lost
BIO: Gerri Leen is a Rhysling- and Pushcart-nominated poet from Northern Virginia who’s into horse racing, tea, collecting encaustic art and raku pottery, and making weird one-pan meals. She has poetry published in Strange Horizons, Dreams & Nightmares, Polu Texni, NewMyths.com and others. She also writes fiction in many genres (as Gerri Leen for speculative and mainstream, and Kim Strattford for romance) and is a member of HWA and SFWA. Visit gerrileen.com to see what she’s been up to.