This wondrous foe

Here’s an old poem. What is it about dead animals that makes them such pungent material for poetic treatment?


For hours now the grownups had kept at it:
a scarcely modulated piano roll of talk
as steady as an all-day rain. At last
we bolted out the back where
the corn came almost to the door,
the tassels shining like epaulets
in the late afternoon sun.
We bushwhacked through the knobby-
kneed ranks, crouched in weedless furrows
to burst from cover with rebel yells
& Hollywood whoops of the wounded

until someone let loose with
a scream that sounded too real–
Vultures! Barely missing us
as they sailed out from a ragged
knot of trees we hadn’t counted on:
three, six, then ten or more
immense black pairs of wings,
each dangling a shrunken head, red
with glassy yellow eyes as empty
as outer space. They hung
so close they must’ve risen
on the air sucked out of our lungs.
Then the smell hit us.

Alone, anyone would run.
But being a threesome we had to brave it,
couldn’t go back with half a story.

The smell wasn’t hard to track:
a dry sinkhole big enough
to swallow a tractor–the reason
that patch of woods remained unplowed–
had trapped a cow.
Its bloated hide bounced our bold missiles
like a trampoline. We tested its tautness
with ever larger rocks until, one
by one, like gleeful privateers we leaped
or scrambled down, unable to resist
such bounty. Now

the foreshortened sky had no more room
for vultures. We danced
on the carcass of a dragon–a woolly
mammoth–the last dinosaur! And
the sunlight scaled the hole’s lip
& slipped away through the corn
while we shouted & argued
over the provenance of this wondrous foe
we had so clearly vanquished.

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