Old Rob and the Free-Range Chickens

by John Lane


In Rob’s childhood the roosters in the hollow
Had fat yellow combs. They strutted in the yards,
Free of wire fences. Two roosters belonged to Uncle Tommy,
Two more to his other uncles, Bobby and Billy.
Most days the hens circulated from yard to yard,
Tended nests under the porch, built from scattered hay
Gathered from the old useless fields and plucked
From the spiked racks of the stalled threshing machines.

Each brown egg, a breakfast orb flecked with shit and straw.
On Sunday mornings Uncle Tommy appeared with an ax,
Hanging loosely at his side. The gregarious hens hid
When they heard his door slam two cabins down.

One hen each week startled by conjunction of ax and block.
Bloody heads rotted in the wire grass, the eyes gone by noon.
In Rob’s dreams poultry still careens, small brown storms,
Through his front yard swept clean by his young mama.