The Exchange

Because I didn’t buy the copper hen
hung by a thread from the shop’s tin ceiling,
little bird hinting at something once homey,
plump, belonging to another world,

all I have is that world, Poland between wars,
time of rickety farms, old women in kerchiefs
and mannish shoes clumping out to scatter
feed among the soft mumble and flurry of hens.

Winter under clotted skies, spring with bare,
snow-patched yards, summer, fall, wind
through barn slats, maybe a horse, sway back,
half blind, bearing its coat of frost, bearing

decades of women reaching knotted hands
into hen-warm hay to gather eggs,
the miracle and sad story of eggs —
how a whole country can break,

its hens scurry off, its horses stumble
toward their useless barns, as overhead
planes drone through felted skies.
Hard life, dirt life, ditches full of bones,

rutted tracks, fields full of charred foundations
where stables burned, and hens wouldn’t lay,
where hens flew off to roost in the woods,
to scratch the dirt and peck among lost

buttons and crumbs, bullet casings dropped
by fleeing citizens or passing troops.
From her forest perch, what a humble song
a chicken sings, sometimes the last thing

a partisan hears before coins are pressed
to his eyes, and brethren quickly strip his boots
and gun. Above them, the fluffed up breast,
that little mother of everything fragile,

her snow-capped cluck and bob —
turned now into a small replica hung
on nearly invisible thread, bright copper
still surfacing from those shallow graves.

Printed from Cerise Press:

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