I was holding my son in my arms, and I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He said I want to be a vulture when I grow up.

The stubborn years passed, and I grew accustomed to his bald pink head, his long skinny neck,
the brown and black feathers, the claws, the smell, but when he flew away it was still hard.

I hung out with all the other fathers, releasing their vultures into the sky, and we would look at
          each other, asking,
did we do the right thing? All those poisons, the fucked up ecosystem we made so unthinkingly.

I found out that a group of vultures in flight is called a kettle, but a group of vultures resting
in trees is a committee. A wake of vultures is a group that is feeding. 

I’d look up in the sky and watch them circling, wondering which one was mine, and if he
          wondered the same about us
as he circled with his companions. Would his children want to be vultures when they grew up?

Or would one day in our old age a vulture would greet us at our doorstep carrying a basket with
          babies inside it
determined to be people no matter what.

Regardless, we grew old, all of us; when we died they brought our bodies up to the rooftop
chopped into pieces, and we waited for our sons.

My son appeared before me, I got to hold him. I said my arms are free, and my legs, my legs are
free, my chest is difficult, and my head, but my hair is free, my blood is free;

He said my feathers are free and my claws are free, my beak is free, my wings are marvelous,
nothing is earned still it is marvelous.



"'Vultures' is part of a series of bird poems I've been working on for the past three years. The overall project originated in 2011 when I began working in couplets again after a fourteen year break from the form. I wanted to explore long lines once more and to see if I could make a rougher sort of music with the language I used. I picked birds because they have figured for so long in my poems but always in a more general, metaphoric sense. I wanted to get more specific and at the same time create a parallel text to Farid ud-Din Attar’s 12th Century Sufi epic The Conference of the Birds."

Hugh Behm-Steinberg is the author of Shy Green Fields (No Tell Books) and The Opposite of Work (JackLeg Press), as well as three Dusie chapbooks, Sorcery, Good Morning!, and The Sound of Music. Bird poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from such places as Spork, Fence, South Dakota Review, Kenyon Review, Denver Quarterly and Ping-Pong. He teaches writing at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he edits the journal Eleven Eleven.