Magpies by Kenneth Gurney

Illustration by Jenn Lambert
Illustration by Jenn Lambert

We gave the magpies popcorn.
They asked for that movie house buttery oil to be added.
They asked to come in and watch Hitchcock’s The Birds.
They asked God to go on the warpath
so there would be enough carrion on the ground
for themselves and all their corvid relatives.

At the snow sparkled cemetery
other magpies sorted the dead white men
from the dead brown men
from the dead red men
and debated on which tasted better,
then pretended I did not overhear them
as I did a rubbing of a marble relief carving
in some railroad executive’s ornate headstone.

One magpie recited passages of Dharma Bums
from the lowest branch of an alder tree
with “my mother is now a Gutenberg bible”
carved in its bark and I thought
better that than a Sears catalog
or the splintery seat to a centuries old outhouse.

Dora soaked in the monastic testimony
of a waining moon rising above the townscape.
The magpies never strayed too far from her
when they felt broken hearted.

We gave the magpies all the reruns of Big Bird
in his Sesame Street years.
They asked for our inheritance of Grandmother’s collection
of S&H Green Stamps books.
They asked for a replica of the sign that say Sanders
over Winnie the Pooh’s doorway.
They ask for flu shots to protect them
from the West Nile and Zika viruses,
so they don’t drop out of the sky unnoticed.

About the Author

Kenneth Gurney

“Magpies are one of my favorite birds and I have a surrealist’s imaginative mind.”

Kenneth P. Gurney lives in Albuquerque, NM, USA with his beloved Dianne. His latest collection of poems is Stump Speech (2015). He runs the poetry blog Watermelon Isotope. His personal website is at

About the Illustrator


Jenn Lambert illustrates fine detail ink drawings using traditional techniques. She lives and works in Soho London and has a background in Film production. For inquiries please get in touch via Instagram.

Magpies is one of the many amazing poems from the upcoming fourth edition of the literary collection The Machinery.

Feel free to share the poem on Social Media or let us know what you think about it in the comments below!

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3 thoughts on “Magpies by Kenneth Gurney

  1. I have a magpie friend that visits me every morning…for the cat food I put out for some neighbourhood TNR cats! LOL Complains if I’m not up yet…


  2. You can tell by the detail in the illustration that Jenn has studied a Magpie’s feathers up close. I appreciated that aspect in particular. This winter a Pine Grosbeak died and was frozen after challenging her reflection in our picture window. I studied this lovely bird and also took several high rez, close up photos.

    Feathers are an engineering marvel of the highest order.

    My personal detailed visual encounter – physical, photo and now ink – along with the wonderful personified poem makes me think again that there is more to the lives of our neighbour creatures here in the boreal forest where we live, than we realize.

    Mitch (an aspiring grackle)


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