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.
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.