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Hunger(KENNETT SQUARE, PA, “Mushroom Capital of the World”)

After rain, we’ve seen vultures
on the topmost branch of a tulip poplar,
their capes lifted, feathers fanned and tilted

like blinds, gathering heat. Even then
their yellow eyes turn down.
Tonight their heads are bowed, black

capes collapsed against their backs.
They form a circle and huddle in.
From the road, we watch them dip their beaks

in benediction while others circle---
feet tucked, wings rigid and crimped,
silent as clouds, their shadows swinging

over furrows where breaths quicken.
Is it holy? the drinking of blood
and the body’s juices, the scraping

of skull, shoulders, hips, and ribs?
Like midwives they usher the newly-dead
into viscera—stripping the hair, skin

and fur, picking the bones free. Down
the road, in a thousand darkened barns,
a fungus erupts,

stem-ends blooming into domed
bone-colored caps, death cups
sprung from the remains.

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—Jen Bryant (Milton Center 2000 Award for Poetry, judge: Henry Taylor.                                 
Published in
American Literary Review, Fall 2001)
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