Under the Vulture-Tree

By David Bottoms b. 1949 David Bottoms
We have all seen them circling pastures,
have looked up from the mouth of a barn, a pine clearing,   
the fences of our own backyards, and have stood   
amazed by the one slow wing beat, the endless dihedral drift.
But I had never seen so many so close, hundreds,   
every limb of the dead oak feathered black,

and I cut the engine, let the river grab the jon boat   
and pull it toward the tree.
The black leaves shined, the pink fruit blossomed   
red, ugly as a human heart.
Then, as I passed under their dream, I saw for the first time   
its soft countenance, the raw fleshy jowls
wrinkled and generous, like the faces of the very old   
who have grown to empathize with everything.

And I drifted away from them, slow, on the pull of the river,   
reluctant, looking back at their roost,   
calling them what I'd never called them, what they are,
those dwarfed transfiguring angels,
who flock to the side of the poisoned fox, the mud turtle
crushed on the shoulder of the road,
who pray over the leaf-graves of the anonymous lost,
with mercy enough to consume us all and give us wings.

David Bottoms, “Under the Vulture-Tree” from Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems. Copyright © 1995 by David Bottoms. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Source: Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1995)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet David Bottoms b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Nature, Animals

 David  Bottoms

Biography

David Bottoms was born in Canton, Georgia in 1949. He earned an MA from the University of West Georgia and a PhD from Florida State University. In 1979, Bottoms won the prestigious Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his collection Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Robert Penn Warren, the contest’s judge, described Bottoms as “a strong poet, and much of his strength emerges from the fact that he is . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.