#FlattenTheCurve: Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura by Joe Cottonwood


The phone rings at dawn in California.
An ER doctor in New York informs us
Janelle has been admitted with Covid-19.
We’re next of kin. Are last wishes known?

Sprinkles fall, rain in a drought year.
Atop a fence post a turkey vulture hunkers down,
red-masked as if for virus protection.
Cathartes aura has an acute sense of smell
for ethyl mercaptan, the gas produced
in early stages of decaying meat.
Can it smell New York?

Cathartes means “purifier”
from the Greek word, same root as catharsis.
And aura is also from Greek
meaning “breeze, breath.”

A brave nurse reaches an iPad into the danger zone
so we can Zoom with Janelle
who lies enclosed in a clear plastic womb,
a Zoom to say goodbye. She’s barely alive,
low blood oxygen, a white mask over mouth
but maybe we see a wan smile. Maybe not.
We end with “Hope to see you soon”
because we mean it.

On the fence post Cathartes aura
spreads wings to dry. Branches sway softly,
a pure puff of air.


Joe Cottonwood has built or repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Foggy Dog. joecottonwood.com

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