You have been in here for a long time.
A room barren of chairs,
and the apple tilted
in the corner is not for eating.
At one end a closed window opens
out onto a tract of tire-scarred earth,
a line of listing fenceposts,
rags of dull grass,
and a slow glimmer of sun
caught in the ice at the lake’s rim.
Now and then, a tern, wheeling
over the water.
You have been in here, and you will be.
The same visions every day. Easy
to sink into yourself, like a plummet
sounding bottomless depths, and dwell there,
easy to become a barren room within
a barren room. But at the window
where the frame meets the sill
a slim gap lies along the edges of paint
and when you put your hand there
you can feel the air
bleeding in—cold, almost
delicious—pressing up the scent
of invisible lilacs.
That was the year for the killing.
The law of grace went slack as stunned muscle,
and our cooped hens fell to near-devouring
their weak, until each narrow back was plucked
bald and flecked with peppery blood. So our father
straddled the coop stump, gripped each feathered neck
and shucked off each beak’s tip with clippers.
The summer waxed on, melting all bonds of blood.
July: mother struck father who threw a chair
down the hall. My brother and I stood in the yard,
in rage, listening to the house, listening
to the furniture move, prepared for a killing.
That fall, our father sat the stump again.
The coop wiring cubed him in pervious solitude.
We watched him grip each fear-stiffened muscle
of their necks, then give death, blow on deliberate blow,
to every bird we had. How he would flip a shucked
head into the bucket as the body ran on, wheezing
blood through the cold grass. My brother laughed,
desperately, while my gaze gripped the open throat
of the bucket, slick with spilled life, as if to crush it.
Jonathan Scruggs grew up in South Carolina and Vermont. After receiving his Master’s in Philosophy from Boston College, he moved to Waco, Texas, where he works as a librarian, poet, and fiction writer.