The cottonwood trees bordering Gastineau Avenue are filling with ravens. Somewhere nearby a bald eagle screams out its territorial warning. Down the hill, fifteen mature bald eagles have settled in trees above Lower Franklin Street. They lurk beneath the tram that in summer carries cruise ship tourists up Mt. Roberts. I look down at Taku Smokeries to see if they are processing black cod. But no tender boats line the dock to off load their catch. The last time so many ravens and eagles assembled above South Franklin when the Taku plant was closed, they had been drawn by the body of a deceased homeless man that the police reported, “had been left unattended for an extended time in the woods.” I pray for different explanation for the scavenger’s gathering and try to remember the words of a poem I wrote in response to the homeless man’s death.
Stiff as corpses, large birds hover over fresh kills,
gliding in circles that draw a crowd of kind.
Locals call them turkeys to fool the tourists
who want to believe that the sun always warms
evergreen grass along the California coast,
that death is exiled to just north, south, east, west
of this place so close to heaven
that the undertaker is bored.
Home in Alaska, hunting reduces the need for trope,
and most families eat around bullet holes in their meat.
Eagles, ravens and crows tidy the dead. Without judgment,
I’ve watched them do this necessary work in the heavy rain.
Last winter, eagles hovered over Gastineau Avenue, screamed
at each other and the stubborn ravens. I took their pictures
then dropped down rickety steps to a Franklin Street coffee stand.
I bragged about seeing the eagle glut until the police
reported the Gastineau Avenue discovery
of the corpse of a homeless man, once a villager
now a mystery to his family, with no friends,
found in the area where I saw the cloud of eagles.
He lived unattended in the woods, died alone,
was waked by carrion eaters too innocent
to mourn. I’ll try to remember him as someone’s son,
not a once fleshy body now carrion reduced to bones.
(“Necessary Work” by Dan Branch, The Penwood Review, volume 21, number 2, fall 2017)