The wounded hen crowds her face into the corner between
the plastic tub — bursting with grain pellets — and the naked stud.
Her bare back is slick with gore and the smear
of yesterday’s ointment. She beats the air with one white
wing to fend off my glove, its fist full of medicine. Winter
has finally slouched out of the North and they, none of them,
will scratch bare earth for months.
Sweet Old Bob, the big white cock, bullies
a clutch of hens into the opposite corner. Another
clutch flies up to the chorale perches
and turn their yellow eyes on us. Blood crusts
the hard horns of their mouths.
Maybe they need protein. Maybe they are bored with this cell.
For days, they have marked this hen — who my daughter named
Pretty Girl last summer — for some difference: opening a wound,
then pecking, probing at the bright blood, until she staggers
with infection and blood loss. In this fashion, they adore her.
She is celebrity, solstice, celebration. Even the stinking ointment
cannot secure her peace.
She’s easy to catch. I cradle her to my chest, careful to keep the pulpy
side away from my jacket, and carry her out into the sharp air. The sun
is already setting. Cannibalism cannot start here.
In the garden where she and her sisters ravaged the summer pea
crop, where I picked prickly handfuls of metallic Japanese Beetles
to feed them through the wire, I suck cold air through my teeth and
wrench her neck. This is for
After the office meeting, men of the nearby subdivision loiter
in the conference room discussing potato guns in casual pants
and v-necks. Plastic eagles, rubber snakes: all the best ways
to drive geese from their lakeshore. They are fed up with shit
on their wide lawns. They are fed up with racket.
Their water quality is plummeting.
I am new in the office. New to offices. But I want to
interrupt—flap my arms, describe Squaw Creek sanctuary
where I saw clouds of geese, 500,000 strong, over 7,000 acres
of marsh. A million ducks thrown in too. Squabbles
breaking out among the young. Lifelong mates finding old
friends. And over all, a vast galaxy of feather and bone —
hollow as whistles. They’ve come from the Arctic Circle,
where young were born and fledged in a matter of weeks.
Now that the rivers are straight and the other marshes
are drained, the subdivisions look awfully good.
Some are tumored with lead shot. Some are sick or injured
or old. Their friends delay.
Along the edges of the marsh, gawkers like me gather.
Shutters blink open and closed. People watch. Bald Eagles
watch. Coyotes and hawks and owls watch as geese pinch
themselves onto the water. The geese are through complaining
about shit on the land, racket, fouled water. They have
someplace to be.
(first appeared in Midwest Quarterly, Fall 2006)
Years later, I remember the anti-sound from across
the kitchen. Music, dish clatter, and the bellow
of the vacuum cleaner sucked into my daughter’s dark
face. It was silence enough to turn my head.
After that, the three long steps and my left hand sweeping
her ankles. Three savage blows to the diaper from my right: Love!
Love! Live! Just like that, The End lay wet and winking
on the floor and my little girl, wailing her fear of me, fled
to her anxious mother and would not look at me.
Alone, I pushed my knees into the floor. My stomach shivered
and slithered into my mouth. My fists, palsied, still ached
to keep the life in her.
(first appeared in Centripetal, n.d.)
February in New Hampshire
coiled round bare birches, drifted
in a maple crotch, sugaring white pines.
Snow on the radio, after the avalanche
drowns a skier. Experts list the shapes
of snow: keys, plates, ball bearings…
Imagine this lethal clutter, the junk-drawer
crashing down the mountain.
The woods exhale
plumes of snow. White floods the meadow.
Snow softens granite. Snow, burnt black
where it meets the road. Mountains
of snow on the town common. Piled
into dragons, rolled into men. Snow
is coming. Wave your arms, kick. Snow
is still coming down. These angels
Because my daughter’s new trumpet is bright as winter sunrise,
she forgives its flatulence. Sitting on the edge of her bed, toes
pointed to the floor, glowering at the funhouse reflection of her face
on the bell, she blows the same near note
One Two Three times.
This is not an anecdote where the parents cram socks into their ears
and pray for time to speed up. Nor do they imagine genius.
In this story, the father sneaks a pile of jazz CDs into the child’s dark
room hoping Miles
Davis or Chet Baker will turn on the lights,
then he creeps downstairs to his half-finished
poem, the note he’s been trying
© Scott Coykendall, 2009
(Thank you to Scott Coykendall for granting permission for Groundwork to publish the poems. Copyright remains with Scott Coykendall)