Professor Nordhaus assigned me
Galway Kinnell’s “The Hen Flower,” section 2
of The Book of Nightmares, instead of section 3,
“The Shoes of Wandering.”
Who wouldn’t rather go with Galway
to The Salvation Army to try on “these shoes strangers
have died from”? But instead, I got the hens,
unable to understand the ax or the eggs,
and me, not getting why it was the hen
who helped Galway know
how little he knew, how we sleep on the feathers
of hens, how these feathers are all that lie
between us and darkness.
How hard it must have been to write
“Listen, Kinnell,” and then to stop writing and listen
to the hens in their sawdust beds.
How hard it was to read and then go back
to my room in Grace’s house where she let me stay
for free while I went to school
so I could learn again and again that everything
dies, even the poem, even Galway
who died this week and brought me back
to that classroom where I sat behind
a dark-haired girl named Mona.
She only spoke once in class, the day we discussed
a poem called “Breasts.” I learned then that she wasn’t
shy, she just didn’t care much for shoes
or hens, but breasts she liked, she kept almost
cupping her own under her sweater as she talked
about the poem until I thought she was going
to actually show them. Which is where I think
the poem was going.
from Dresses from the Old Country (2018)Find other Laura Read books in the library
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