Tuesday, April 11, 2017

#228: "Stewards of the Dead" by Susan E. Gunter

~This poem previously appeared in Atlanta Review (2015).

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, assistant editor for poetry

I watch them circle above me, wings
like open pages curving slightly
from the spine, a kettle of royalty
attended by a page, a lone hawk
hoping for scraps from their carrion,
a bit of flesh or shredded muscle.

A wake of them undertakes to clean
the world of waste, their wings caressing
leaf mold as they feast on the fallen,
leaving a heap of knackered bones,
odd tufts of fur for the devil’s cloak.

In Brazilian myth, vultures’ wings
blocked the light until the hero captured
their king. Man and bird compromised:
divide the world in two, sun and moon.

Gods of darkness, death, and terror, take pity.
Spare me another hour, a jeweled sunrise—
keep me from the tower of silence,
for I have not yet finished with words.



"Stewards of the Dead" had its inception at the Bennet Valley Course, where (for the zillionth time) I hit a ball into the Santa Rosa Creek. As I stood up from searching in the blackberry bushes for my ball, I noticed a group of buzzards flying overhead. I imagined that a golfer, frustrated by this crazy game, had died looking for a ball. Because most golfers are such driven people, no one had noticed that someone was missing from their foursome--and now the buzzards were feasting! I always do research for my poems, so I found out a lot of things about buzzards that undercut my stereotypes of them. Those things led me to shape this poem into a sort of homage for these amazing birds.



Susan E. Gunter has published poems in journals around the country, including Atlanta Review, Poet Lore, and Semaphore. She has also published three books on the James family. Susan Gunter studied poetry with James Dickey, Jane Shore, and Andrea Hollander. She lives in Santa Rosa, CA, and is on the board at the Marin Poetry Center. She loves to knit and read at the same time, hoping someday to simultaneously finish an Icelandic sweater and Remembrance of Things Past. She is a judge for the Northern California Book Awards and a part-time nanny to her two grandchildren.

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