Talking Turkey

by Robert Cording

Eleven wild turkeys have walked out of the woods
into my backyard. Turkey: an English mistake,
probably due to homesickness, this New World
native looking something like a fowl
the first settlers had eaten back in England,
where its name named not the bird
but the trade route through Turkey
that delivered the birds to European markets.

Had the expression been available, Ben Franklin
might have said, in response to the country’s
choice of a representative bird, let’s “talk turkey.”
He found the bald eagle of dubious moral character.
He probably saw that lazy bully plunder
an osprey’s fish. Wise old Ben knew
the bottom line with the bald eagle was profits,
whereas turkeys “come by their living honestly.”

Outside my window, they go about their business.
They’re congregating now for winter.
I remember a poet describing their loyalty
to one another: a hen in a topmost branch
flapping its wings to shake down apples
for the commonwealth of others waiting below.
Intelligent in the wild, they are not the “turkey,”
we domesticated into stupidity over time.

I’ve placed a print of Audubon’s wild turkey
on my study wall: a male looking over
its shoulder, as in a portrait of a founding father.
Audubon catches both his weathered,
no-nonsense attitude and the plump plain beauty
of browns, creams, and bronze-green iridescence.
Grounded, down-to-earth, the turkey
seems to know exactly who he is.

Hunted almost to extinction, domesticated,
then reintroduced into the wild so we could hunt
them again—I’m thankful for their comeback.
And thankful for what passes as their casual pardon
as they go about their work, flourishing
at the edges we’ve left them. Right now,
they’re scraping the fallen leaves with their feet
for the bounty of red and white oak nuts.

And I’m especially thankful for the way
this no fanfare bird has given transport:
one evening, crossing over the crest
of a hill, I saw a rafter of turkeys
sitting in the topmost branches of an old oak
like people in the upper windows of a house,
their quiet, thoughtful bodies silhouetted
against a full moon roosting in the tree with them.

Published on November 21, 2017