The stink of scorched feathers and the bumpy, scaly chicken feet bombarded my senses as Dad thrust the bird at me. The body was warm, too warm. I didn’t care that he said the carcass was that way from being dunked in the scalding water. Loosened the feathers, easier to pluck, whatever.
The live chickens huddled and clucked and jumped at the far end of the coop, but only a few would escape Dad’s reaching arm. Squawks from the chosen victim grew loud—until the strike of the ax. Running like a chicken with your head cut off is true, but there’s also obscene gymnastics with shooting blood that gets gummy on the gravel in the summer sun.
Instead, Dad nailed the bony chicken feet to the fence post after he chopped off the heads, and the things bled out shuddering against the post. Dad said, “At least the meat won’t get bruised.”
I know Mom was there—she came in the kitchen later and scolded me and my sister for arguing about who had to clean all the butt pieces floating in the cool tap water—but my memory can’t place her at the scene. Maybe she snuck off for a Winston, thinking, no cursing that the damn chicken coop was what had sold them on the property. Nobody in the family would have admitted this place was supposed to be the cure for his drinking.
“Good country living and hard work,” my dad said.
Dad was sober this day—family day. I wonder now if he was trying to convince himself or the rest of us.
No time to think. There were chickens to pluck. LeAnn and I stood side by side. I watched her lead—she was the big sister. But, God it still felt like I was plucking a live chicken.
I pulled feathers one by one. At this rate, I might have one plucked by Christmas. Dad looked over and headed my way.
“Jesus Christ! It’s not gonna hurt you.” He grabbed my hands and rubbed them all over the chicken.
I threw the chicken into the air. I heard the thud as I ran toward the house, “AHHHHHHH!”
Similar chicken thuds and screaming came from my sister.
These were the good times.
Melissa Fast is a nonfiction writer from the Midwest with an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. During the day, she spins words as a public relations professional. In her free time, she slugs French-press coffee and plays with words in hopes of making sense of her surroundings. She was selected as one of the winners of the 2017 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards from the South Carolina Writers Association, and her work has appeared in Minerva’s Rising, Bluestem Magazine, and Brevity blog. She is currently working on a memoir.
All the students are sitting on the floor, so are several teachers,
even the principal. The visiting poet is sitting on a chair.
There are perhaps a dozen students — silent, serious, though
they exchange occasional knowing glances and smiles.
The visiting poet, too, is silent. So are four or five teachers
and the principal – the room soundless, except for exhalations
and the recorded message that harried them into this small room.
The room is the principal’s office and every available inch of floor
is occupied by the eighteen people summarily herded by the principal
into his inner sanctum. For once, the visiting poet is voiceless,
no well rehearsed lines on his lips, though his eyes take everything in.
The pre-recorded monotony of dread booms everywhere via the school
intercom — into every classroom, gym, washroom, office, stairwell.
This is a school lock-down.
Get into a classroom,
clear the hallways, or leave
the premises immediately.
The principal knows this is just a drill: a post-Columbine reality
of departments of education. His school has failed to measure up
in a previous time-trial at emptying halls, hence this repeat drill.
Teachers and students know the score. They know about the ominous
SWAT unit sweeping the halls for deranged gunmen and other such
non-conformists. Only the visiting poet is uncertain, wondering whether
he may somehow have inadvertently set all this in motion the moment
he set foot inside the school and headed towards the main office.
The principal checks his wrist watch again, giving it a shake as if to hasten time. The bored teens shift and re-shift their lank shapes as only teens can.
The teachers relax, their day now blessed by an extended recess.
The visiting poet muses on imagery inherent in the word lock-down,
its currency in prison language. Lockout, lockup, lock step, lock-box,
lock jaw, lock, stock and barrel. His mind spins combinations.
He has already noted the principal locked the door behind him
before sitting on the floor. It’s the first time the visiting poet has been
confined in a principal’s office – he reflects on the irony: it has taken
him almost a lifetime to achieve this rare distinction. He also realizes
that choosing to sit where he has, his head is the only target visible
above the window line. The poet has again made himself vulnerable.
The intercom monotony ceases as abruptly as it began. The principal
stands, thanks everyone for co-operating and this seminar of the silent
disperses. The pulsing din of academia bursts to life from the ashes
and in the visiting poet’s head metaphors ricochet everywhere,
as he now attempts to emulate the springy step of his nubile hostess,
trailing her down the now-raucous hall to where they await his poems.
Glen Sorestad is a well known Canadian poet from Saskatoon, who has published over twenty books of poems. His poems have appeared in over seventy anthologies and textbooks, in publications all over North America, in many other countries as well and have been translated into eight languages.
The Truth About Eternity
The happily ever after is the return to the disenchanted life. —Ruth Daniell
Check the refrigerator door,
the photos of your son at six, at ten,
graduating from high school,
gone, lost to the skirr of time,
of your wife before the pain set in—
the hikes, the ski trips, vacations
to lands with grapes and siestas,
yourself fifty pounds ago holding
a little boy on your lap, your arm
around a gorgeous woman with hair
the color of a midnight fairytale,
of Fred and Toots in Michigan standing
in front of the largest birch tree you’d
ever seen, cut down by Fred shortly
before time’s timber felled him and Toots,
of Dave Fick, your wife’s sailing instructor,
whose swim trunks slid south exposing sailors’
crack when he launched his boat from your dock,
and whose ashes now mix with sand and soot
in the depths of Walloon Lake,
of Art and Cee Culman, multimillionaires who spent
a summer laying tile in their kitchen only to realize
that what they’d learned was useless since they’d never
use those skills again before they died—and they didn’t—
of Bill Mackinen who taught you that no politician had
the right to define a “family” as a man, a woman, and
their children only—Bill who died watching the Tigers
route the Braves on his hospital TV, and
today, photos of Chuck Kinder, the best writing teacher
you ever had who, in the midst of criticizing a boring story
you’d written, fell into a raucous coughing spasm and,
once recovered, proclaimed, “that’s what happens
when you smoke seven joints in a row.”
Your refrigerator door gives the lie
to eternity—the door from whose surface
someone, someday, will remove your photos,
put them into a shoebox, and store them
on some disenchanted shelf.
The Truth About Conspiracies
What about those nitwits that won’t vaccinate
their kids against measles—the same screwballs
who criticize climate change deniers because
they denigrate science? Didn’t god invent jail cells
for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children?
What do you think happens when an
antivaccine ninny gets wheeled into
an emergency room gasping for breath
and holding her chest? Does she shout,
“Don’t touch me with that EKG!” Or,
“Keep that oxygen away from me!” Or,
“Don’t you dare take my blood!” No,
once in the ER, she becomes a big booster
of medical science. Just as there are no
atheists in foxholes, there aren’t many
antivaccine nutters in cardiac care units.
What about extended warranties?
A company has so little confidence
in its product that it sells you a warrantee
on top of the warrantee that already
comes with the oven, iron, refrigerator,
or the most shameful appliance of all—
the electric can opener. Isn’t a sign
of adulthood, of entrance into what Lacan
called the “Symbolic Order,” the ability
to operate a manual can opener? Doesn’t
that old-timey can opener allow us to assume
our place in Western Civilization? The truth
(and this poem is about the truth) is that
the company knows these gismos will last for years.
They play on our insecurity and incompetence: sell us
warrantees that make us pay twice as much for the widget
than it’s worth. Thank you P.T. Barnum!
Speaking of what lasts—every day I put cat poop
in the plastic bag my newspaper comes in
and it will stay in that plastic bag as long
as the plastic bag exists, which is forever.
Think of that—the only proof we have of eternity—
a plastic bag full of cat poop! Wait, there’s more—
I shave with the Gillette razor my father bought
in the thirties and used all through World War II.
Stainless steel doesn’t rust! The Gillette company
realized in the sixties that, if they kept making
this quality product, something that never needs
to be replaced, they’d go broke. So they turned to
the plastic disposables they make today that occupy
our landfills and compete for space in our oceans.
What about expiration dates? I get it with mayonnaise.
When green spores or brown splotches spoil its virginal
perfection, it’s time for the garbage bin. No problem there, but
everyone knows that salsa and Tobasco sauce never go bad.
They’re too hot to go bad, like my wife whose body may
be gnarled in places and is often wracked with pain,
but her essence, her bedrock goodness, her passionate
kindness and understanding will outlast any date etched
on a tombstone or printed on a death notice.
The Truth About Obituaries
The one time you absolutely must read
the obituary column and you can’t
because you’re dead! You will never read
what the amorphous “They” wrote about you.
And no fair writing your own obit. That’s cheating.
Talk about a conflict of interest!
The point of reading your obituary
is to see what others thought about you.
After all, as Sartre said in rebuke to Heidegger:
My death is not only not my ownmost possibility,
it isn’t my possibility at all. I’ll be dead!
No, my death, wrote Sartre, is some other
poor sod’s possibility (I’m paraphrasing here).
Someone other than me will discover my body—
maybe my sweet wife as she struggles to
find warmth in our bed only to discover
the cold hulk that was me; or some overworked
cop, called after a neighbor saw too many
newspapers bunched on my front porch;
or some luckless EMT who has to pry
my broken body out of twisted metal.
Will that final scribe highlight my kindness,
my fortitude in resisting the government as
a conscientious objector during Viet Nam?
Or will she focus on my disgust with academia
and the ever-dwindling psychoanalytic mirage;
my disappointments about growing up
in Cheyenne, Wyoming—a dusty, backward,
one-horse town that might as well have been
in the deep South—with an alcoholic father
and a mother who chose an alcoholic man?
Will she emphasize how ill-tempered I am
after my daily walk? How crabby I get
before dinner? Will she find some scandal
I’d forgotten or didn’t even know about?
As I rethink this now, it will be good
to be dead when my obit appears.
I’m with Sartre’s—let the other
deal with my demise.
Charlie Brice is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood (2019), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Main Street Rag, Chiron Review, Permafrost, The Paterson Literary Review, and elsewhere.