The 2River View 26.1 (Fall 2021)

Jessica Conley

The Women All Wore Black Dresses

The women all wore black dresses
and wide-brimmed black hats with bouquets,
netting, and silk bows. Some chickens sit
on their laps, others are grasped
more tightly, black and white-rippled
feathers jutting between women’s fingers.
If it were not a photograph, in a moment,
the women in the front row would stand,
birds scattering in false flight.
On the bottom corner,
written in cursive, Hen Party 1937
it’s one of those old family photographs;
there’s no one left who knows,
so my mother and I make up their stories:

That’s Lara smoothing the wreath of dark
feathers at her chicken’s neck, and great-aunt
Julia with the Orpington is mid-story,
telling Phyllis’s sister about her broody hen. 
Phyllis (who was almost late because she
was looking for her crocheted gloves)
describes how she dunks her hen
in cold water to make it abandon its nest. 
My mother and I like this reunion
with family we never knew we lost. They wear
subtle smiles, glad to be known, mud
and feathers about their skirts. In the back,
two boys, slouched and squinting, sit atop
a fence, waiting for something to be over.

Jessica Conley teaches at The Steward School in Richmond, Virginia. She has been published in literary magazines such as Glass Works Magazine and The Gordian Review.

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