forefinger sliced open
by rejection slip:
the cruelest cut of all
At the Poultry Reading
(a misheard line)
Everyone pecks around aimlessly, stirring the dust,
then, wings and tails flapping, they settle in the straw.
The reading starts late, as the last bit of sun
sifts in through cracks in the barn siding.
The invited readers begin: A. Rooster,
a C=A=C=K=L=E poet, known for his strong
performances, his jazz riffs on the gabble and gobble
of barnyard life; he aims to ruffle some feathers tonight,
loves the shock value of forbidden words:
cast iron skillet
biscuits light as angel’s breath—
Oh, he’s a cock with confidence, purple punk-cut,
multi-pierced and tattooed, watch him preen
his wattles and combs. And if he does crow on
and on, extends his time by 45, what’s a little spilled corn
in the barn?
Next we have Jemima Hen, bird of color,
ardent fem-avian. Railer against the evils of egg production:
I’m not one of those broody types.
Who says you have to lay eggs to feel fulfilled?
I am woman, hear me squawk
How I love to cluck that talk
How I love to strut that walk
And then, at last, what they’ve all been waiting for,
the open reading, where the entire flock
lines up at the microphone. Night turns its pages;
at last the sun rises. But no one is awake
to sing the dawn.
(First published in RE:AL)
Barbara Crooker is the author of four books of poetry: Radiance, winner of the 2005 Word Press First Book Award and finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press, 2008), winner of the 2009 Paterson Award for Excellence in Literature; More (C&R Press, 2010); and Gold (Cascade Books, 2013). Her writing has received a number of awards, including the 2004 W.B. Yeats Society of New York Award (Grace Schulman, judge), the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award (Stanley Kunitz, judge), and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her work appears in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and The Bedford Introduction to Literature. She has been a fellow at the VCCA 15 times since 1990, plus the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. Garrison Keillor has read 21 of her poems on The Writer’s Almanac, and she has read her poetry all over the country, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, including The Calvin Conference of Faith and Writing, The Austin International Poetry Festival, Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium, and the Library of Congress.