Killing of the Hens
The dry, frayed ends of autumn, the garden
charred by successive waves of night frosts,
the heavy scent of wild grapes in the air.
Outside the kitchen’s back door, a small
metal barrel stood over a fire waiting on a
slow boil, set up by my grandfather early on.
Nearby a makeshift table – old planks topped
over two carpenter horses – covered with old
yellowed newspapers; large bluish canning jars
waiting at one end of the table, each sterilized
in a bath of scalding water and later each
snuggly fitted with a hen’s cleaned out carcasse
to be cooked, then placed on shelves in the dirt
floor cellar, making their first appearance on
the Sunday dinner table during winter months.
My grandmother, rotund and lacking any
sentimentality for most animals, least of all pigs
and chickens waited in a heavy rough cloth apron
with years of use, a small sharp knife in hand,
her swift entry into a hen’s cavity easily passed
for a butcher at the local market.
The chopping block, a weathered piece of an old
black oak tree trunk, its surface marked with
grooves where many an ax head fell and left its mark.
With a wave of her hand she signaled grandfather
to begin the killing. A few feet away, within
a temporary wired enclosure, unknowing hens
milled about pecking the grassy area for what
would be their last meal. Grabbing each hen by
its feet, he laid her body on one side, her head
almost on the edge of the block and with the speed
of a sudden lightening bolt, brought down the axe,
the hen’s head dropping to the ground, it’s headless
neck squirting blood like a garden hose, then
tossed the the first of many hens that would grow
into a pile of her dead sisters.
Yet there was always a hen that sensed her fate
and managed to get back on her feet and dash off
headless, as if defying death itself and determined
to keep living, while her severed head lay at the base
of the chopping block could give not so much as
a cheering cackle for so heroic a try.
Copyright © Maurice Rigoler | Year Posted 2022
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