Four times now
I have driven past a shrinking heap
of long black feathers:
unmistakably vulture,
apparently untouched.

These birds do not readily
eat their own,
preferring the sweet meat
of herbivores, though,
on lean days, they’ll consume
almost anything
giving off the gas of death,
which they can smell
from their circles in the sky.

Not keen on killing,
they will wait out their dinner,
keeping a dark eye on the faltering.
Fresh bodies are best,
but rotting corpses are welcome too,
a lucky break for the rest of us—
imagine a landscape
with no clean-up crews.

The bird on the road
must have died quickly,
misjudging perhaps
the speed of a semi.
I once saw a hawk
make that mistake,
a sight that left me shaken,
afraid for all of us.

Keeping her hidden tally,
nature allows for senseless things,
even a bit of waste now and then,
like a bird no others will eat,
as if the risk were a crossing
into chaos.

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

4 thoughts on “Vultures

  1. I could so identify with this, since we have many vultures on our mountain. Your writing is so clear, made to amuse not confound your reader. I look forward to each piece you create.

  2. Brava!, this was so vivid and yet despite the gruesomeness of it all you found humor, too, which made it all the more real (“imagine a landscape with no clean up crews”). I was grateful for that wry observation in the midst of the story of the poem.
    WHEN will Jean Ryan publish a book of poetry, please?!

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