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.