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.
In response to the film: “Struggle, The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski”
He refused to draw from live models so they kicked him out of art school. He didn’t give a fuck cause he wanted to learn things his own way. Shortly after, his father, the person he loved the most, was killed by an automobile and the neighbors went to get him. He picked him up from the cobblestones, carried him through the bustle, policemen quietly behind him not knowing what to do. At the morgue, he asked to have his body, he wanted to take him home. And this is how, from the broken body of his father, he learned anatomy. In his sculptures, ever after, the unbearable pain flowing through each muscle, tendon, eyelid…
Viviane Vives is a filmmaker, actor, photographer, and writer. A Fulbright scholar for Artistic Studies, —Tisch School of the Arts, NYU—her translation work, poems, and short stories have been published internationally. Some of Viviane’s recent publications are poetry in the Southeast Missouri University Press, a short story, “Todo es de Color, Children of Catalunya” in Litro Magazine of London, and a ten page story in The Write Launch: “In the oblique and dreamlike style of Marguerite Duras, Viviane Vives weaves memories of her ancestors and place—Nice, Barcelona, Perth, New South Wales, Texas—in “Dialogues With Your Notebook,” a stunning literary achievement.” She is also a Finalist of the Philadelphia Stories’ Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry and Semifinalist of the American Short(er) Fiction Contest by American Short Fiction. Viviane is a nominee for Sundress Press’ Best of the Net Anthology 2018, for fiction, by Burningword Literary Journal, whose editor Erik Deerly also included her in their Best of 2018 anthology. Black Mountain Press also has included her work in their Best Sixty Four Poets of 2018.
As in, pick up your mud-crusted boots and move along. Forward, onward. Stopping to ponder one’s thoughts could lead to a frozen death, a swampy drowning.
As in, the January memory of one million bodies filling the DC green (not green at all), the wind cold and biting on our cheeks, my children separated from me. They were near the Metro station, not far from where I clung to a flag-post but we could not traverse the sea of protesters. We could not march, or even move. Our arms shook, holding up signs of anger, and love. Winter, then spring.
As in, rain for ten days, stop for two. The trees bloom briefly, confused. They drop the petals like wet mittens on the ground, ground down to a faded sidewalk tapestry.
Dickens noted, “When it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” But the light has eluded us this year, trapped in a box on Fox news. Blanketed with East Coast sleet, west coast floods. We watch a goat, standing along on the roof of a dairy farm, waiting to be rescued, cars floating by. Swollen rivers of doubt topple the last walls of credibility.
“We are sunk,” we say, turning off the television. “We’ve gone to the dogs.”
Simultaneously, our soaked Shepherds press muddy paws on the glass door. The mother dog’s eyes brim with anxiety. She is ombrophobic — March is not her month.
The invasion of mold in the carpet, water in the cellar, and ants. The ants erupt from a crack under the dripping window sill. Highly organized, they move four abreast across the counter, boldly. They resemble one million women in the streets of Washington, from an aerial view. The ant parade takes a sudden turn at the liquor cabinet. Drunken ants pile around the simple syrup. I understand. We drank too at the end of our long march.
As in, thousands of refugees who approach the border. The king of fools calls upon his reluctant troops to raise arms against them. He labels them The Caravan. As if they come with wagons and horses — settlers to the wild west. Could we offer a homestead, or a land title? No. To share even a jug of water risks arrest.
Emily Dickenson welcomed it like a secret lover, locking the door against April. My faith in the poet falters. To prefer March to April — strong evidence of insanity. I beckon April to visit me instead. I promise spring cleaning, fresh bulbs, and tea in the solarium.
My dry skin flakes away, words sit rough in my dry throat, and my winter belly creates a mantle over my jeans. The shadows under my eyes deepen to small tar pits. I awake with no spring in my step and my hips protest.
“Still cold and damp,” my joints moan.
“Hush,” I self-chide. “Lift your feet. Onward. We cross the border today. March.”
Joanell Serra lives and writes in Northern California. Her first novel, The Vines We Planted, was published by Wido in 2018. An award-winning playwright, novelist and short story writer, she has published stories in Eclectica, Blue Lake Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Poydras Review and elsewhere. In 2015, she won a full scholarship to Santa Barbara’s Writer’s Conference and also attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.
She sensed when he’d show up. She’d turn her head and look out the window. There he’d be 3 floors down in the parking lot. The man in the hat.
Tall, almost lanky. Black hat – she wasn’t sure the term – Boiler? Brimmed? Felt? Always. Sometimes with a vest. Sometimes a leather jacket. White guy. Indiscriminate age, maybe 28 or 43. Not as old as she was. Not young enough to be self-conscious.
On him the hat worked. For her. There was something about his gait. Self-assured. Never in a rush. Going somewhere. He looked like he could time travel, be comfortable anywhere. The kind of guy who could wear an “I heart my cat” shirt without an ounce of irony or stroll to a piano bar in a dusty western town. He’d need a wider brimmed hat for that.
She wondered where he worked. She realized she was unaware of what the other companies in the building were or did.
She never saw him at the food trucks. She hated the elevator; he struck her as a take-the-stairs guy. She liked the familiarity of the mystery of him a few times a week. Possibility in the guise of routine.
One day she was walking down the stairwell. There he was – she had been right. Up close, she still liked his face. Light eyes. Pale. Maybe intelligent. Short dark hair, at least what she could see around the hat. Could be a banker if he swapped jeans for a suit.
“I like your hat.”
Nice smile, “thanks.”
“Goes with anything; in this climate, you could wear it in any season.”
He agreed then described his summer hat. Made eye contact. Then held the door.
She paused. Almost held out her hand. Introduced herself.
Maybe it would have been what her former father‑in‑law used to call “the Greatest Love Story of All Time.”
Maybe she would have made a new friend.
Maybe they would have grabbed a cup of coffee or a beer.
Maybe they would have talked about cats.
Or ended up naked and sweaty tangled in bed sheets.
Maybe, naked, he would’ve let her try on that hat.
Most likely none of that would happen.
She had good American life by any standard; in her routine she didn’t have was much that was interesting.
And the man in the hat, he was something to ponder.
What if under that hat was a wispy, greying, middle-aged comb-over? What if the intelligence in his eyes was anxiety? What if he was just another IT cog who played golf, drank too much on the weekends, and watched sitcoms after work?
She liked speculating about the man in the hat.
She did not hold out her hand or ask his name.
Instead, she walked through the open door, cold reality making way for fantasy: “thank you. Good night.”
She did not wait for his response, for him to catch up, share details about his life, and maybe walk with her to her car.
Tara Hun-Dorris, a West Virginia native, lives in Raleigh, NC.
Feral iris bloom peach and blue and cream, and sweet-tempered purple violas, and a busy chipmunk digdigdigs up the mint and basil and thyme, little bastard. He skitter-pops on quick feet over the mulch while the sun rises through one soft smoky exhale.
In the house, the man and the boy sleep, and maybe dream.
All over town, along every street, spiky white daisies to braid a crown.
Occupy the blank hollows between clockticks not considering his obituary, or eulogy, or anything words at all—instead, chipmunks and herbs and irises and smoke.
At the Farmers’ Market, booths blush with the pinks and reds of April and May. Eat strawberries by the fistful dirt and all red-mouthed and sweet-tounged while children and dogs swarm your knees—a little bit of thunder, or the echo of a phone call in your head. A woman rhapsodizes spring asparagus, somewhere to your immediate left. Radishes taste best with butter.
Eat. Eating after a death is a mitzvah, after all.
If walking is hard, aimless onefootinfrontoftheother up the stairs and down the stairs and to the stove to fill the teakettle to the cupboard a box of stale crackers the bathroom a Kleenex from one bright window to another to another, then stand. If standing is hard, in the empty kitchen empty bedroom empty living room, sit. The faded green chair by the north-facing window, the window with the bird feeder. Chickadees and goldfinches and starlings and robins perform a mitzvah.
You are an empty teacup.
Molasses-sticky feet cling damp to linoleum—a light and brief hand on a wall a caesura, stopped in place for a minute or an hour, a week, a year.
Grief plans an extended visit, but neglects to call ahead.
Grief chain smokes Lucky Strikes on the porch and watches that goddamn chipmunk eat the mojito mint, Grief swarms around your feet with red-mouthed kids and barking dogs in the hot street discusses asparagus with the woman to your immediate left. Grief picks blue irises and white daisies to make you a crown and stands on your front step with both hands flowerfull until you consent to let it in.
Suzanne Cody’s (MFA, Nonfiction Writing, University of Iowa) recent publications include poetry in Gambling the Aisle, Crack the Spine, and Storm Cellar, essay in Queen Mob’s Tea House and Pithead Chapel, and flash fiction in Blink Ink. Suzanne served on the editorial committee for the Seneca Review anthology We Might as Well Call It the Lyric Essay, and is currently Nonfiction Editor for Crack the Spine.
I have waking-nightmares of you falling out of the sky.
NASA rings me. I think it’s spam, but they know I trust NORAD, so they have me call the mountain nearby and ask for some general by name to confirm. A private jet flies me to the Kennedy Space Center where all the loved-ones of a secret mission and recently compromised space-vessel have been collected. There, Mission Control puts us all in headsets wired straight to our crew members in the sky – in the cold black that is quickly becoming lighter as the ship plummets back to earth at the speed of any respectable falling-star.
I’ve written you a poem. You talk to God. I watch the screen to help me time my last words to you, and see the ship make impact. Crash into the earth. Explode in the dirt and air with the space and humanity still all over it.
Around the room, people double-over with grief. They wail. In some scenarios I do, too. In others, I silently keel to the floor and vomit. Someone like you – sane and composed in crisis – drapes a windbreaker embroidered with your name and the mission’s insignia over my hunched shoulders.
All correspondence with the ship is recorded, so in the following days I listen back to our conversation. So do the officials and, in some versions, pieces are given to the media for the sake of public morale. Your poem becomes a cultural landmark. In others, the whole voyage is kept under wraps and none of the families are allowed copies of their astronauts’ final sounds.
Sometimes you try to give me custody of your nephew (since your brother is in jail and your father is aging). In all of them, you ask me to tell your sister’s daughter and your namesake that you love her and that her laugh is your favorite sound in the whole universe. You remind me that your second-favorite sound is mine.
My last words to you are, “See you soon”. This is because you’ve seen how much God always loved you and because you and I always end things upbeat and because you and I are never finished.
Delaney Kochan is a mountain-raised writer who has has essays published in Under the Gum Tree, Chaleur, Ruminate, and multiple collegiate literary magazines; she guest-writes for outdoor adventure and regional magazines. She started a lifestyle brand and magazine with her friends in college and now is a reader for Newfound Publisher. She loves language even over story, and on the weekends she works as a floral interpreter. Full list of work can be found at www.delaneykochan.com