Quills and Feathers

Turkey Vultures

Circling above us, their wing-tips fanned

like fingers, it is as if they are smoothing

one of those tissue-paper sewing patterns

over the pale blue fabric of the air,

touching the heavens with leisurely pleasure,

just a word or two called back and forth,

taking all the time in the world, even though

the sun is low and red in the west, and they

have fallen behind with the making of shrouds.

Vulture, Turkey

Cathartes aura


Turkey Vultures are the most commonly seen bird of prey on the northern Great Plains. With a wingspan larger than most hawks, the birds in flight, from a distance, may well incite an "ah" of appreciation from the casual observer, at the sheer majesty and ease of their marvelous soaring—unless the observer realizes that they're "buzzards," eaters of offal, attendants of the dead, and then said observer may shudder from a long-held human-cultural prejudice against these cleansers of the ecosystem. Nebraska poet (and U.S. Poet Laureate) Ted Kooser reiterates the stock reputation of this species, as death-dealing makers of "shrouds," but most of the poem is a re-appreciation that asks us to see them anew, as near-human ("fingers"), as artists ("sewing patterns"), and as casual (and social) loafers like many of us, "taking all the time in the world" as we/they go about the earnest business of living.

Bibliographical information

Author: Kooser, Ted (1939-)

Book: Delights & Shadows

Date: 2004

Publisher: Copper Canyon Press

Project Information

Genre: Poetry