Divining a Carcass: Diptych
Generally what I produce is new. Of course,
they are often variations on the same subject.
I set aside the paper with its front-page notice
about Updike’s death
and saw my son staring out the window
past the fence to where a large bird
pecked at the ground, beak flecked with red and sticky
bits of fur. On the ground a dead rabbit,
what else could it have been?
Then another bird, the first still picking
at the carcass, the second standing still,
wings spread full, marking the spot for others,
waiting its turn. Wild turkeys, he said,
but as I looked through the binoculars,
I could see the markings weren’t right—
they were vultures and their fare
an eight-point buck on its side in the snow,
an eye gouged out, a rib snapped in half
as if from a blow, right hind leg
gnawed to the bone. Then three birds,
one eating, two waiting, each knowing
its place. Okay, this is a good place
to admit I couldn’t find the binoculars.
While the bird was busy feasting,
I had walked out to the fence
to perform the autopsy, and while I was
curious about the decorum in the queue,
it was the bright red blood
pooled between the bare ribs that gripped me—
how the color of life
can still inhabit the non-living,
a relationship show signs of life
though its ribs are broken
and its unseen eye no longer glistens.
Always the lingering question
about the cause of death and its precise time,
the disembodied sense of staring at oneself
and not recognizing the creature.
How you can’t know when you’re actually dead,
though you must have felt it.
And that is where it always expires—
the metaphor out there in the snow.
You turn away and walk back to the house
of your life, up to where
someone still stands at the window. And whatever
happened out there, you’ll say you were
both right: they were turkey vultures.
Beyond the Fence
Beyond the fence, two birds peck at a carcass,
beaks flecked with sticky bits of fur. Turkeys,
but the markings aren’t right—they are turkey
vultures and their fare is an eight-point buck.
Unlike us, neither is in a hurry
to scavenge the body. Each waits its turn.
I walk out for a close look, somewhat afraid
to probe, some things better left unknown.
Bare ribcage, blood dried up, an eye gouged out,
right hind leg gnawed to the bone. Amazing
how quickly all signs of life disappear
when there’s an insatiable urge to tear apart
and feast on the remains, yet unlike us,
vultures wait until they know the body’s cold.