View from

Turkey Buzzard

(Juana Moriel-Payne)

“Here on a narrow one-lane/overgrown with cattails and ivy/the circle of turkey buzzards draws closer.”

On Shanty Hill Road, I bike

following fresh asphalt’s soft

undulations, past river birch

and hemlock, as baby rabbits

zip and hop, lop-eared


and crazed with the first onrush

of clover scent, bees bouncing right

off their haunches. One

jumps straight in front of me

and only a swift jerk that almost

dismounts my hurtling

haunches, saves its neck.


Fur disappears into sumac

and unmown grass. It’s dazed

by a brush with sudden

end.  In the field beyond, a lone

horse stands brownly oblivious

to this rabbit, whose cousins abound.


Meanwhile, for miles around, foals

are getting born, sloughing off goop

taking first rickety steps,

improbably upright, some

destined for racetracks but

for now, testing the sod with pliant

hooves, or suckling milk from the dam.


I power up a long hill, downshifting.

Over the rise, ten yards off, a wake

of vultures crowds the remains

of a less lucky rabbit, two or three beaks probing

as bystanders primly await their turn

at flesh. These aren’t barbarians.


The red smear on tar of the reckless

car that smacked this lepus cuniculus

made roadkill before the newborn

could taste the green delights of existence.


Buzzards have overflown many of my trips.

Riding thermals, scant wing flaps, sudden drops,

keen eyes, cruising low enough to scent

the first gases of the freshly rotting corpse.

Utter quiet, no syrinx to disturb

just grunts or low hisses.  Sometimes


in trees, they feed upchuck to their chicks.

Black vultures kill cattle, while

these peaceful turkey buzzards show up late

to feast on carrion and take the blame

for their cousins’ murderous ways.


Here on a narrow one-lane

overgrown with cattails and ivy

the circle of turkey buzzards draws closer.

Each seems to say a silent prayer

dipping its bald red head

before ripping off a strip of flesh.


Johnny Payne is the arts editor at Merion West. He is a poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist. He has worked extensively in Latin American Studies, especially literature under dictatorship and Quechua oral tradition. He directs the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles and earned his doctorate from Stanford University.

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