Dirty Knees

Mid-morning in sultry yesterday, I’m beneath the deck nailing a chicken fence on one end to keep my daughter’s chickens from venturing toward the neighbors. I’m thinking of my folded-up laptop on the table on the deck above my head and of the woman I just interviewed, how I want to write just 500 words before I’m at the middle school again, picking up my daughter. At the same time, I’m thinking of a house insurance bill.

Her golden chicken appears beside me and clucks softly, as if asking a question. Then I just stop for a moment and ask the chicken, hey, what’s up? I remember when my father, decades ago, put on his oldest clothes and crawled in the narrow space beneath our house, cleaning up the droppings from our beloved cat.

I hammer that fence together — maybe it’ll hold for a day or a year — toss the chicken a crust leftover from my daughter’s breakfast as she rushed to school, and then I write those 500 words.

Black gloves
I threw into a field
rise up again —
yellow flowers blooming
from their fingers.

— Fumi Saitō in A Long Rainy Season

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Evening Meet-up

With two 12-year-olds and a giant dog cage in my small Toyota, I drove along the dirt roads in Woodbury, in search of the woman who said she had chickens. Ignore the no trespassing sign at the foot of the driveway, she told me, a warning for burglars. That part of the Woodbury is mountainous in the small, Vermont way, with curved hillsides cupping homes, and lots of clear running streams and glacier-carved ponds.

It was nearly dusk, and she was outside, waiting for us. The girls eyed the chickens, who were not yet in their houses. Waiting, the woman showed the girls her fluffy chicks, and then we went inside. Her house had an amazing floor made from stones on the property. While the girls waited quietly, the woman and I talked about her relatives who had been in the area since before the Revolutionary War. She showed us a photograph on the wall of her distant relative in a Civil War uniform with his wife, who must have native blood.

The woman’s house was filled with dusky light. She was one of my people, a small woman, and, standing, we were eye-to-eye. I could feel the girls getting antsy for the chickens, but they were quiet, saying nothing. This woman had raised three sons alone in a mobile home on this property, and then built a house about the time the boys moved on and began their own families, cutting a deal with her ex-husband’s child support arrears for more land instead of the  money he owed.

The girls petted her lovely black lab. I stood listening to the unexpected bends of her life, to an autoimmune disease and the loss of a job, and then, she said, the chickens saved her life. Began her on a new track. In the descending gloaming, we walked behind the coops and visited her new bees. For a moment I guessed she would offer to take us further, up that steep hillside I admired where she and her son cleared a field.

But the girls edged toward the chickens. The hens muttered, stepping slowly into their houses for the night. We took four, driving out through the sound of the clattering peepers.

Morning glories
enough thatching
for this hut.

— Issa

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Egg

A steady May rain turns up the most beautiful things: bits of green leaves on our two pear trees, the slender stems of lily-of-the-valley, gold coins of bright yellow dandelions in the greenest of green grass. Inimitable green.

Years ago, I drove through hayfields rich in dandelions to take my daughter to preschool. She was four when she first called me on the telephone, her tiny voice over those black lines.

Yesterday, while I was at work, my youngest texts me, just a single line: We have an egg.

I stand there for a moment. I’ve propped the door wide open in the library and opened all the windows. A breeze blows through, sweet with spring air, with that mixture of grass that’s both freshly cut and growing, the way May in Vermont flings itself headlong toward full leaf and blossom.

While two little brothers in the library are chatting at me about Goosebumps books — companionably and nicely — I’m thinking of my daughter in our dim barn, with her four chickens clucking and muttering around her, holding an egg in her left hand.

The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
— Robert Frost
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