One May night long ago

Emily came home from college a week or so ago. It’s at this time of year that the night described in the following poem comes back to whisper to me. I can’t say haunt, just whisper.

I wrote this poem several years ago, but it had been sitting in my head for years. Actually, it started (as they always do) with how this event affected me. I had come home from college to find no one at home — and the electricity was off. As the day sank into night, I became more and more frustrated. When my mother came home from town, her first reaction was to run out to the brooder house where she found the horror that she knew awaited her.

My last image is of my mom and little brother sitting at the table — as I went to bed.


The Warmest Places in the Dark

Dozens of half-dead chicks
huddle in dark blue roaster pans
on warm oven racks.

Their peeps loud and insistent
as death comes to a kitchen
lit by candles and flashlights.

The tired farmer’s wife
roughly towels yellow balls scooped
earlier from cold water troughs.

A spring storm had snapped
power lines and cut off life-giving
heat and light to the chicken coop.

Stupid birds, she clucks
with disgust, as she imagines
how they instinctively sought out

the warmest places in the dark,
covering themselves with
a liquid blanket of water,

and how the tiny bodies
cooled as the sun sank below
the horizon while she shopped in town.

She piles the lifeless lumps
in cardboard boxes from the feed store
that held their noisy force only days ago.

Beside her at the dark oak table
her young son towels a chick dry
carefully in his cupped palms

and blows a steady stream of air
between his fingers until his mother
gently touches his shoulder.

She recalls how he sat cross-legged
in the hen house that morning
surrounded by these newborn chicks.

How his giggles rang out
when the birds nipped his fingers
and she lingered despite other chores.

They will work silently together
all night in this darkened kitchen
as some live and more die.

Years later when someone mentions
that night she will only shake her head
and he will look down at his hands.

South Dakota Review, 2005


2 thoughts on “One May night long ago

  1. I’m a fellow WordPress blogger (and owner of a handful of chickens) 🙂 I saw your “Iowa” tag on my feed tonight. I can just picture the heartache your mom and brother felt that night you wrote about. Growing up on a farm is a precious gift. DM

    1. Thanks for passing through and leaving a comment! Yes, growing up on a farm makes us one of a rare breed. Not many know what it was like where I live now.

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