It is late May and I find a possum surrounded by turkey vultures in the street. The morning light peters in greys and blues over the pavement and I wonder if the possum is just asleep or dead.
I pace by my bedroom windows in my underwear and bra, watching as the stiffened body becomes stone. The first vulture lands, leans down, holds the face away. I am reminded of my neighbors, wonder whether they’re also watching, hoping this will be our next unspoken conversation before graduation and my lease ending: how the vultures took over.
The carnage unfolds in moments: courting carrion, flight, landing over and over, lingering as a sizable six gather. By noon, the mailboxes of townhouses across the street and my next-door neighbors’ roofs are chosen as resting places for the vultures and I edge closer, now in a bathrobe. The window in the front room—which was once Jed’s room—has a view directly above the porch overhang where one of the vultures on and off chooses to perch with each passing vehicle’s interruption of the roadside gathering. The university provided full size mattress and bed steady me as I perch, leaning into the window with my morning’s mug resting on the sill. I wait, watch, hold the possum’s body—splayed paws, contorted neck, torn fur—almost become part of the scene.
Cars brake, blow horns, and scatter shouts only to receive brief vulture glances as the carrion carry on their departure-and-return routine into the midday. I have had to unpack the moka pot again to brew my daily coffee, cradling the cat lady baby blue mug I plan to leave behind in two weeks’ time as the steam opens my pores and my eyes remain fixed on the street below. I press my lips to the mug and sip the morning’s brew without Jed nor Mickey to help me finish the pot. I busy myself only with refilling the mug and moka pot and return, acting the same as these creatures: seeking comfort in consumption and only turning away when briefly interrupted. For all of us, this pattern slowly breaks down.
The vultures set upon the corpse in a new way: shouldering it off the street and tearing more harshly at the limbs. They act in concert, seeming to unify as caretakers—taking care of this dead—and dividing as hungry beasts, flapping their wings and craning their necks when each fixes upon an organ system: the eyes, the intestines, the skin, the bones. I consider going downstairs, crossing the street in intermittent traffic, joining them to take in this corpse. Instead, I go to dress, readying for one of my last afternoon shifts at my work-study job.
I drain the last of the room temperature coffee from the moka pot into the sink and toss the grounds into the trash bin. The vultures dig into the fleshy skin. On the fridge are photos from this year of me and my two best friends. I go to the front window before I’d forget and take a grainy photo on my phone of the street through the window screen. I delete it when I realize I can’t see the vultures in it, nor the possum. I go back to my bedroom and pick out a short-sleeve button-up shirt and knee-length black shorts to put on. I button up while craning my neck to see if the vultures are moving the corpse as they are moving out of view from my windows. I pack my backpack with my keys and water bottle and lean over to wave goodbye to the vultures before I leave.
I purposefully go out through the backdoor and cut through backyards to avoid the street. I avoid the vultures, afraid that if they see me, they’ll leave and not return. I fear them leaving the evidently dead possum to decompose. I fear not seeing them again, even after waving goodbye.
* * *
Half-past golden hour, I return. The wake has left. The corpse is now a husk: hollowed out, face brutalized into a splotch of maroon, the paws remain in a bloodied clutch, the tail is tossed aside, and the entrails are dragged into the middle of the street by the last vulture there. They pull out the last digested organ and I stand on the side of the street only a house away, watching as they finally depart, leaving me with the emptied dead.
Jennifer Gagné (Gagné) is a poet and essayist with a background in French and English and a Bachelor’s of Arts from Wesleyan University where they were recognized as a Wesleyan Poet, Olin Fellow, and recipient of the Scott Prize for Excellence in French. They are currently working as an English as a New Language teacher in Buffalo Public Schools after receiving their Master’s of Science in Urban Childhood Education and TESOL from Canisius College. They live with their senior cat, Chiquita, in Buffalo and hope to pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts in poetry or nonfiction in 2022.