1. "Bloody Good" the article’s called, and in one picture sparse sprigs of feathers hold blood to the light. Grim crease of mouth beyond hooked black beak, stern raise of brow above the eye. Their necks long, hooked and humble, as they fly. Serengeti gothic. In another: wild dog with wrinkled nose, teeth drawn, hackles raised over its shoulders like a hood. Caught in a deep-belly snarl over a picked-clean carcass and its drone of hovering, crawling, biting flies at a grimy vulture with beak left a crack open in surprise. Jackal sounds like cackle, as in teeth that could laugh a throat right off.
2. I go as long as I can on chickpeas and lentils—lentils with pasta and marinara. Lentils in a hefty salad. Lentils cooked soft with carrots. As they stew, the broth blackens, its warm breath rising. Before it simmers, I add garlic, bay leaf, rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil near the end. Someone asks what I’ll be having for dinner: lentil soup. Lift with lemon, pepper, tomato; burden with too much toothsome spinach. Earthy lentils, hardy legumes, soft but with some bite. There-for-you pantry staple, warming winter something-to-fill-you.
3. Early on, death as a fact of life: in the barn, headless deer naked of its winter coat, hung from the ceiling by the back legs, red-blue muscles pulled taught by gravity. For you, hungry mouths, muscles running red with tracks of silver skin, bright white of fat, sinew, bone. Sissy plays with furred forelimbs, clacks hooves across the concrete. She can’t keep them in her room, can she, Dad? Closest I got to any of it was one year I helped pull fat off the hide in thick white layers under spring sun, shooing lunatic flies that worried their clasped hands over the skin with prayers, greed. Forget the gloves; no traction. Frozen once already, deep freeze in the garage after fall-winter killing. Daddy built a frame of two-by-fours to stretch the hide. Tanned it with pig brains, weeks in the barn. The smell holds me by the throat.
4. Chopping celery, split the ribs. Boiling beets—a spray of red across the white stovetop from steam escaping. A reminder: it takes life to sustain yours. I once tried to steam my chopped beets in a dish of water in the microwave and came out with something looking like the opening shot in a crime drama.
5. The vegetarian kick lasts, at most, a couple of months. It’s never long; my body reminds me of its omnivorous descent in no uncertain terms. I run out of iron despite all the lentil-spinach action. Once, my cycle stopped—no blood for two months, a bit of shaking, some fatigue. I wondered at my calendar and then cooked some chicken. Problem solved. And so, sometimes, meat. I cook until it forgets it used to be a someone of its own, until it falls off the bones. Until it falls onto mine.
6. Vultures are attentive partners, one caption says, and mate for life. In the photo, two gently touch the blunt crooks of barbed beaks, grimy wings folded at their sides like cocked elbows. Known for being particularly affectionate, it says. They wear red mess on their wrinkled necks.
7. At home, mixing a salad dressing. Taste: all the honey stuck to the spoon, and just one mouthful of sweet.
Photos and information on vultures from a January 2016 article in National Geographic, written by Elizabeth Royte, with photographs by Charlie Hamilton James.
Madeline Reding has work published or forthcoming in Midway Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Beech Street Review, and Poetry City, USA. She has been a contributor for Borgen Magazine and Borgen Blog, and one of her poems was chosen by Saint Paul Almanac to appear appear as a broadside in Saint Paul/Minneapolis trains and buses, as part of the Impressions project. She lives and works in Saint Paul, Minnesota.