Jan LaPerle – “The Chicken and the Boy” and “This Day is Flying with Her Wings Off”

The Chicken and the Boy

Yesterday we went to the birthday party
of the little boy who used to be our neighbor.
The neighbor to the house my husband moved out of
and left me there.
Well, I told him to, but
you might know that story already.
It’s all so familiar.
It’s the one about me in the yard yesterday
holding a little boy’s chicken,
softly petting its little head, over and over and over.
I could smell sadness under my feet,
trapped beneath the hay.
It had spread with the weeds of our old house.
The yard now stripped of its bushes.
The bushes my husband trimmed meticulously,
years before this day in the yard with the chicken and the boy.
I say this as if so much has changed.
My husband trimmed the bushes so square and tight,
I mistook them for our kitchen table again,
and I set upon them a bowl of oranges and lemons.
Plastic instead of fresh ones. But, the eggs.
We should all work together better, shouldn’t we?
I want a chicken like this one in my arms forever.
Its stick legs swimming forever through the emptiness.
Someone bought the little boy a plastic ax for his birthday.
He smashes what’s left of the fall vegetables decorating the patio.
The pumpkin faces split in two.
The less friendly chickens at my feet peck the innards.
This all makes me feel even more exposed.
My daughter looks at me from across the yard full of something
I can’t read.
I’m wondering what she’s remembering about that year in that house,
the one (the year, the house) that looms just there beyond us,
the shadows of which block the warmth.
I stand next to the fire pit with the chicken in my arms.
Together we watch an old man roast a hot dog.
I hear in my heart the chicken ask, are we safe?
I whisper in the chicken’s ear,
or what I think would be a good place for an ear,
trust me. I’m not sure if I believe in my own ability
to comfort a chicken.
Or anyone.
Certainly not my husband.
The birthday boy seems to have been born
with the intention to break whatever is in his path.
And each year he just grows stronger.
And then we celebrate.
And then the house watches it all.
I think, how long ago and of another life,
but that’s not how a house feels.
It can still feel me in there.
Me, my madness and the vacuum.
The house in all its resentment
wants to get back at me for leaving it.
I don’t blame it.
I tighten and take it.
I hold the chicken closer.
The shadow comes in hard and I can tell
the house has recruited the neighboring houses.
I look up at the darkening windows.
The chicken screams and jumps from my arms.
The rain starts. Heavy all at once.
The birthday boy’s mother hurries inside with the pretty white cake.
For a minute, I am left alone with the birthday boy.
He looks at me with an ax in his hand,
and behind him, the house, it’s eyes wide,
behind me, the house, it’s shadow wide,
the chickens scatter
the wind picks up
the trash from the party catches at the edges of everything.

This Day is Flying with Her Wings Off

My daughter’s best friend spent the night.
She woke early and came to me in the kitchen.
Everyone else was still asleep.
This little girl at the sink could never have been mine –
her hair too blond, her skin whiter than anything I’ve ever seen.
Her blue eyes breaking through and holding me there
in some clear and distant version of the morning.
Her arms and legs thinner than anything my body could ever make.
Her pajamas wickedly tight, and right there
on the front of her shirt,
Princess Elsa with her little magic fingertips,
freezing this girl to me with all her might.
Snow, ice, we were caught in it like a trap,
talking breakfast, like she really could be mine.
One person stands in for another
before we even know it is happening.
Behind us through the window
inside a morning not yet open,
the snow flew in sideways
at the strange and sudden mercy of the wind.

Jan LaPerle’s book of poetry, Maybe The Land Sings Back, was published in Spring 2022 from Galileo Books. Her other books include: a book of poetry, It Would Be Quiet (Prime Mincer Press, 2013); an e-chap of flash fiction, Hush (Sundress Publications, 2012); a story in verse, A Pretty Place To Mourn (BlazeVOX, 2014), and several other stories and poems. She completed her MFA from Southern Illinois University. She lives in Kentucky where she serves on active duty at Fort Knox as an Army master sergeant.

Back to Spring 2023 Issue

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