Why We Couldn’t Stay
by Sara Pirkle Hughes
We were broke again, that old tale,
and Rosella said we could live
at the chicken farm for free
if my husband cut the grass.
She showed us the basement
where we’d sleep. She showed us
the shed with the mower.
We followed her to the coops
where white hens sat, fat and blinking.
Collect the eggs before breakfast,
Rosella said. She scooped up a chicken
and tickled its neck.
Are you brave? she asked.
My husband and I shrugged.
People usually say no, she said.
She tucked the hen under her arm.
We marched down a slopped field
to a chain-link fenced topped with barbed wire.
From a muddy pond on the other side,
growls rumbled like rusty motors.
The gators eat fish, Rosella said,
stroking the chicken’s head.
But twice a week, toss ’em a hen.
My husband and I smiled at her teasing.
She grasped the bird with both hands,
then flung the hen over the fence.
Its wings cracked the air
like wind snapping sheets on a clothesline.
From the water’s edge rose
a primal hiss, a guttural unhinging,
a wrestle of joint and bone.
Then a final awful squawk.
The gator clamped and unclamped
and reclamped until the hen was pulp.
A low, satisfied moan skimmed the pond’s surface.
Rosella wiped her hands on her jeans.
Think you can handle it?
Sara Pirkle Hughes’s first book, The Disappearing Act, won the 2016 Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry and is forthcoming from Mercer University Press. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Best of the Net Anthology and the Independent Best American Poetry Award. She has published in dozens of literary journals, including Rattle, Reed, Rosebud, Emrys, Atlanta Review, Juxtaprose and Atticus Review, among others. She has received writing fellowships from I-Park Foundation and The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. She teaches at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia.