weekend-readsArs Poetica with Vulture

Colin Cheney

Researching a poem-diclofenac’s chemical chain,
for arthritis-to explain thousands of white-backed
vultures, & the owls who eat what the first carrion birds

leave on the skinned cattle shot full of the stuff,
found dead in India, I began to speak
into the mouth of another poem in which I’d yoked

the then-separation-they are now back together-
of two friends with how her hands-dressing the haddock
in lemon, stuffing its cavity with rosemary & salt-

butter-reminded me of how they’d once witnessed a sky-
burial-Parsi, not American Indian, Zoroastrian-
which are becoming endangered, the ceremonies that is,

with the plummeting populations of those birds, because
they migrate from India up into the mountains-at least
I imagine they do, I haven’t looked it up-to finish the job.

Here’s how it works: juniper is burned & then body-breakers
come, laughing as they work, because the body is no longer
precious, hewing what remains into its parts, smashing flesh

& bone together with tea & butter & barley to a pulp
when the vultures-Eurasian Griffons-are called for.
The ways I can make you believe in the relation of things:

this is like, so, and, which reminds me of. Sometimes I wish
I didn’t need to explain it to you like this. But remember
how she had that snapshot of blue sky & said there,

those are the birds, there, & how that felt to not see them
& still believe her? Like when the birds
in your poems came to eat all of those in mine,

or how the peregrine culled our swallows as they swarmed
from our barn as their kin did from the church in Krakow
that evening we returned from Birkenau where you’d found

a birdhouse above the barracks & the lioness poet
told us that swallows migrate through Africa & she’d never
hear the word ringdove the same after what we’d seen.

You’ll think it odd how I want the vultures
to stay in the mountains eating the offered up meat
of human beings, leaving the rotting corpses of the drugged

cattle for the dogs of the skin merchants of Mumbai.
But you weren’t there in the kitchen with us eating sprigs
of dill as she pan-seared the fish, unless they belonged to you,

those birds circling above us, as I madly thumbed
through the Sibley guide to name them-barn swallow,
peregrine, old world vulture-calling each of them down

into cages the Parsi have prepared, because they don’t
see them with the horror that we do, because there aren’t
nearly enough birds to keep up with the rate of the dead.

Back to top ↑

Sign up for Our Email Newsletter