My first encounter with this most alarming bird
Was from a rickshaw, bald heads gathering around a corpse
A photo taken, a memory forgotten, no remorse
Until those eyes met mine and I finally heard.
Perfectly poised to penetrate death
A holy land where human harm leaves only dog
To scavenge the remains of a very manmade mess
The vultures gone to save the sacred cows distress
Slow painful death by inner unknown toxic smog.
Perfectly poisoned by human kind
And then a vulture of a different kind arose
Above the canyons of an ancient world made new
Condors with wingspans lifting in the thermal flows
Photos to remind us that now they too are few.
Perfect flight, sight, smell to search out death
Within a classroom Africa’s vultures I undermine.
Love of a feathered mate counts the human cost
To pass exams, context, effect, unthread that line
Where one key word shouts out what has been lost.
Perfect partners raising young
Here, the vultures rise again in Spanish skies
Mostly griffon with pointed feathered wings
Black, maybe, if really large, the vulture kings
Alive, hanging on that human thread that tries.
Love protecting life
This poem is about my own encounters with vultures, from my early years in India, where I took many sights for granted as vultures were so common then and such perfect scavengers. In my middle years I had a wonderful trip with my daughters to Peru where we saw condors in the Colca Canyon. In my teaching years the poem Vultures by Chinua Achebe would haunt me, not because of the vultures but because of the concentration camp name which none of our students had heard of. English lessons then would become history lessons too.
Vultures are endangered and face many threats, electrocution, poisoning, loss of habitat, and in India because there was no awareness why the vulture population was dying off until the link bewtween drugs given to sacred cows was found to be lethal for vultures.
Here in our Andalucian skies we can see vultures above our house. Some may be the very endangered black vultures from the Aroche colony, or more likely the griffon vultures, which from one of the links seems to suggest there has been some conservation success because of the joint efforts of different groups and laws to protect these amazing birds.
The poem has been constructed according to my 26 poem challenge for the conservation charity the RSPB who also support Birdlife International. There are 26 lines but the italicised lines are also 26 words in praise of the important place vultures have in nature and in human lives. The feral dogs in India that have moved in to take over the place of vultures are more dangerous to humans than vultures have ever been.
If you wish to donate to my challenge the link is below.