After the Farm by Kelsey Schurer
She had a patch of skin on her nose, that red and shiny bridge, a scar left over from a scalpel carving the cancer from her face. I was eight. She was my great - grandmother. She sat inside the old house, its red wooden walls giving off heat in the hot summer morning, her body wrapped in a knitted thing, so loose that the holes were heavy, where the air pocketed itself like a seed in the ground. She was healthy then. She still had feathers. She could still cook while standing on the hard tile in front of the scalding cast-iron skillet.
Outside, the family gathered in the soggy grass, pickled with straw and tiny droplets of cow manure. Uncle Johnny passed around guns to my cousins. The women lounged in white, plastic lawn chairs: something missing from their hands. It was the cigarettes, the smoke entangling in their cropped hair. Before they were Born Again, they played cards and gambled on the brown, fold-up tables, menthol cigarettes cradled in their fingers like a strand of pearls. They posed for photographs in front of the car before driving to the movies, their lips red, legs hose- less and naked. The sun set over the pines in the front lawn. No wind. Less than a mile away, the waves broke, fragile, against the beach, that angelic beat of salt and sand. These women hadn’t yet figured out what it was they wanted. They never could have guessed they would abandon the smoke and whiskey for a hard, wooden pew in the Church of God. How loud they became inside its tall steeple, heels pounding the floor as the organ moaned. The glass, stained in splotches of color, rose above the heads of our family like stairs.
Back at the farm, Uncle Johnny brought out the clay pigeons and a palmful of bullets. His soft denim pants dusted with snow-like lent. We could hear the chickens squawking in their coop, a brown, defeated- looking home, the thin steely wire wrapped around the cut-out windows.
Later, my small hands will shake while I pull apart meat from a wing. They will try to tell me it was easy to kill the chicken, so my great- grandmother could cook it, so it could sit on the dining room table, bright lights staring at the glazed body like open, steady eyes. But I know how a bird can have its head chopped off and still run wild: a feat some poems accomplish, long after their poets are dead.