At nine o’clock on a January night
I heard the coyotes yipping and howling.
They’d found the fresh deer carcass
on the edge of the woods.
But they were not the first to the feast.
On no, that would be the crows who spotted it at seven o’clock that morning.

In raucous delight they barked from the bare branches
alerting their mates
to the startling innards scrambled across the road.

They flew down and strutted about the thrown back head,
and black muzzle pointed to a snow-flecked sky.
Inspection complete, the staring eyeball and lolling tongue
were their sweet meats.

By the time the sun was above the hill
the turkey vultures were circling.
That would have been 10.30 or so.
And by noon they’d folded themselves into the trees
like so many black umbrellas—the good old-fashioned sort—
to wait for their turn at the feast.

When the time was ripe they descended,
scaring off the crows with forays and lumbering, heavy winged hops.
Their downward curving beaks slashed at the belly flesh,
still faintly warm, though the legs were stiff.

By now the slow seeping red tide
had begun to stir the worms.

At half past two, a black beetle crawled out of a patch of dirt to sun itself.
It flexed its patent leather wings
and crooned with joy, sipping daintily with its proboscis,
It was glad not to have to share the meal with those belligerent flies.

At sunset three deer came stepping across blue shadows,
punching through snow crust
to stand by the stone wall.
Tossing their heads, they sniffed the air,
tongues darting nervously over nostrils,
gathering the scent of decomposition.
Recognition, scant and fleeting, of one of their own.
Breath streaming, they stamped their hooves on the ice crystals,
turned and bounded off into the woods.

And finally, past midnight,
When the moon was cold and buoyant in the heavens,
A small red fox who had waited patiently all day,
curled tight in a thicket, nose buried in his tail, one eye open,
got his chance.

He quick-stepped to the feast.
Snatched and gulped, snatched and gulped,
before trotting off with a gulletful of fat-marbled meat
for his waiting mate.


10 thoughts on “THE FEAST

    1. Melissa Shaw-Smith Post author

      Thank you! I’m lucky to live in a place where I get a front row seat to the intricate and constantly amazing cycle of life, death, and renewal.

  1. charissagrace

    Typical me, this is not about road kill and animals, but about us…I have been that carcass more times than I care to remember. And I have been the animals too…more times than my shame quotient will allow me to confess.

    A horribly good poem

    1. Melissa Shaw-Smith Post author

      Thanks, Charissa. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. I imagine we’ll be probing the cycle of death and life for as long as there are thinkers and believers in this world.

  2. kikirosner

    I can hear the animals talking, this is a wonderful parable to be developed into a story! What with “patent leather wings”, “heavy winged hops” and “black umbrellas” !

  3. Sunshine Jansen

    This is marvelous from start to finish, but I love the image of the beetle, that coleopteran gourmand, best of all!

  4. Melissa Shaw-Smith Post author

    Sunshine, I’m afraid to say I had to look up the work coleopteran, but so glad I did! Thank you for the lovely comment, and for this tidbit of information.


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