The things that can happen on a farm
‘You have to watch them close.
Keep them away from water-bowls.
They hatch out from a world of water,
don’t like it out here in dry cold.’
The heavy woman, younger than I am,
shows off her brood.
Her clothes are spattered with feces and blood,
the sweet-rank scent of joyful poultry.
Her face is perfectly made up, a mask of taupe base.
‘They smell the water, brains yell ‘home!’
and the next thing you know they’re feet up and floating.’
She shows us how she feeds them from sponges.
My friend and I have been here five minutes
and already we are ankle deep in death.
The friendly Australian Shepherd
who thrust his nose into my crotch
when we exited the car
slaughtered an adolescent rat
in plain sight of Cristina’s children.
The boys, preadolescent themselves,
think it is a mouse.
I have to show them the difference.
A wide belly, fattened on corn
and rent down the middle,
bare, human-like fingers
repetitively clenching, open and shut,
as though it would reel in the last three minutes.
A naked brown tail, thrashing.
If my shoes had more reliable heels
I would have ended its suffering,
but after our earlier wood-lope
they are hanging on by a thread.
I steer the children away
from body and dog.
Cristina’s elf-eyed daughter
clings to her mother, near to the car.
Their wings are nearly visible, blonde and black.
I think about the chickens.
Why does it kill us to go backward in time?
I feel relief, for an instant, at the knowledge
that I am not the only one
who wants to slide back to the womb.
The woman shows us the quails her child is raising.
He is eleven years old.
She looks twenty-seven.
My twenty-nine year-old belly clenches
in a pang of guilt, which quickly passes.
The quails are scattered in a wide cage,
almost a shed. They smell like
what they are composed of; flesh, grain, hay,
a calcium beak-stone, warm feathers scattering dust.
It has been a long time since I have felt so at home.
I remember the orphanage,
as it was in places, life-filled and bright,
its shadow cast elsewhere.
I ask, ‘Are they hierarchal?
That female there is nearly bald?
Are the women picking on her?’
The scalp of the bird is the same shade,
the same bare flesh, as the tail of the rat.
She stares, immune, through the thin mesh bars.
The farmer smiles, red lipstick, a little tooth-smeared.
‘No, males. They do that when mating.
Pull the feathers out in clumps.’
I ask myself, are all of them like that?
I note the question, fold it up neatly.
I file it away.
Cristina buys four-dozen eggs,
two quail, two chicken. Sensing my poverty,
she divides them with me.
Her oldest son informs me
that I have been blessed with the only white one,
though he concedes that it isn’t white really.
More a cool, pale green.
Food for a weeks’ worth of meals,
my husband eating.
Given the size of the hens,
I am amazed that quail eggs are so large.
How their lives must, daily, pain them.
Every morning they are made to give up.
In the car, driving to my house,
we talk about Homer and the eating of rats.
The children are hypnotized
with memories of market-food.
My time in Manila. I gnawed them
roasted, headless, skinless, retaining their hands,
their hollowed torsos speared on sticks.
A feast for a peso.
They had such sweet flesh. Devoured.
Gone in an instant.
It takes fifteen minutes to drive me back.