The Last Scarecrow
The Last Scarecrow

The Last Scarecrow

by Paul Hunter of Seattle, WA


When around the wood stove Charlie
finally told the kids one winter night
what he’d learned from his old country
schoolmaster who kept a general store
who would expound late and early how
in England since before the Conqueror
if on the farm you were not strong enough
to dig a ditch fork hay or pull a plow
with no rhythm in the hands to milk a cow
these marginal ones still always had a job
women men girls boys too feeble or frail
sat in orchards or stood along fencerows
like statues with stones in their pockets
to keep crows out of ripening crops

some would spend long moonlit nights
around harvest to bar the dark flocks
swooping down to feed and like he said
never mind how ragged they appeared
what would count was that hard deadly aim
what they did then what they got for it
as these downtrodden ones for their service
their vigilant timely effort killing crows
likely scared off the rest spared the harvest
as reward might be thrown some leftovers
else let glean the empty fields to pluck
spilled gold kernels down upon their knees


So ever since that form in human shape
in rags in cast-off clothes might generate
an ancient rage and fright in crows
to deny clever dark-eyed birds the crop
their kind always knew just when sweetest
most tender as if summoned by ripeness
to settle among raucous brethren gather
and gorge till so full the birds echoing
each others’ laughter scarce could flee
the stone cold pelting rain that cut
them down not even truly thrown
by the poorest and feeblest of these

So come next spring with the children
big enough to poke seeds in dirt Evaleen
took one spring’s rainy Saturday to make
a scarecrow which none had ever seen
as she said each of you go fetch a torn
shirt or worn-out dress or pants that
don’t fit you any more that even
your little sister might fall out its hole
and we’ll sew them all together then
stuff them with straw and hang up
in the garden to let swing and sway
in the wind maybe dangle and sparkle
hang tin cans catch wind make a noise
like a strangled ghost that might
for a minute scare away the birds


But that first year the kids would learn
what it meant to be silly not scary
to startle crows what they’d need
was maybe to steal the lace gloves
their mother wore to church and stretch
out the fingers with coat hanger wire
to snatch at the breeze dance and flutter
then get Charlie to help make a head
with a neck that would spin on a bearing
and a hat that could capture the wind
with feathers to make the head nod till
it bobbed up and down spun around
like the fool couldn’t make up his mind

so they soon learned to dress up the dummy
and as harvest time came round again
change its billowing vests and bright scarves
hang tinsel to dazzle crows’ eyesight
till the end of the season Thanksgiving
in the yard in a bonfire they’d burn
last year’s most frightening nightmare
that left them new scarecrows to dream
over winter sketch then stitch and stuff
before plowing and planting next spring


Though for crows familiarity bred
mockery contempt or chuckles even so
the scarecrows always resembled
these girls’ and boys’ castoff clothes
with Halloween faces and fringes
once a beanie cap with propeller
dancing flutters of fringes and fingers
that vaguely worked in light breezes
so none need throw rocks at the crows

But with their final youngster set to leave
for college they could never burn the last
but hung it up way out of reach of
field mice that overran the barn that
come spring the sparrows soon found
built nests in its stuffing prevented
what might have been shameful and heartless
had to wait till its pockets were emptied
its fed baby ones fledged and flown
then carried down hung in the garden
this recognized dancer made welcome
by crows back to feast on the farm
where the old couple no longer minded
the crows’ daily heckling and shouting
laughter at their sweet familiar
back and forth become only a game
nearly singing of summers to come

The Last Scarecrow