I sent this blog out into the black void of the internet four years ago. Last year I began to take it seriously and set a goal to post weekly throughout the year. I smashed that goal by a mile and had more hits than I ever expected.
The poem below was the first I posted on my site back in 2008. It was my first published poem in a “real” journal, the South Dakota Review, 2005. My little brother, Bob, (who isn’t so little) says he doesn’t remember the night depicted in the poem. Funny. It is one of the memories that will always sit right below my consciousness.
Boxes of yellow chicks were always one of the first signs of spring on the farm. But when I went away to college, I began to lose those seasonal connections. So when I came back one spring weekend, I was totally unaware that the loss of power on the farm was having such a devastating effect on the baby chicks out in the brooder house.
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