A Red Hen and a Small Woman
A red hen goes scratching inside its small house
while hail gravels the roof
and I watch a bent woman walk resolutely on
into the racing fog and wonder where she’s going.
Cows moan, horses nicker, the rooster crows once as if its neck’s broken.
The famous quiet before descends, approaches complete stillness
except for the slender trill of the random breeze.
Then the Oz scenes:
the tin roof on the corncrib flaps and screams,
dust wraiths flute into the black afternoon.
The farm sleeps on.
And in a corner of the canvas the sky begins to lift its blue eyelid.
Eventually, the storm rolls up its coven of loud children
into its gray rug and goes off home.
Mother yells for us to come out of the storm cellar
now the morbid fear of tornado’s gone.
Myself, though, fixed at the window, hidden,
am following that woman as she goes further
on into something I think is longer and deeper
and wider and more dreadful and wondrous
than any of my mother’s fearsome storms.
I crawl into Grandfather’s lap.
When I begin telling him what I saw and what I think
about who that small woman is and where she’s gone
and what might become of us all, he keeps smiling.
The sun shone, the crops showed solidarity and rose up, drought stayed away,
as did locusts and frogs and other wild misfortunes.
The fog will come again.
The storm will rain with ice.
The chicken will scratch for kings and queens.
Then the small woman will come, doggedly walking,
and grandfather will go on smiling, holding still,
as will we all, when the weather decides it’s had enough,
and we grow patient, at last, waiting and listening hard
to the thin sound of that hen scratching
for something a boy might plant
that takes him to the stars.
He went further down the road than intended.
Getting back took him around the bend
and so much longer to get back.
She didn’t wait.
Her anger, so long simmering, took her
where it needed to go.
She took the bus, another road,
and would let the eagle fly
on Friday and Monday and forever’s foreseeable future.
He looked over the horizon, could see
the commotion only in past tense.
The birds no longer told him their secrets.
He’d have to figure it out himself.
Had he loved her?
And the un-struck match in that haystack?
So much came down to time,
its ineffability, and how much of it
he’d squandered or misunderstood.
He should’ve stood still, silent,
counted slow towards serenity,
not taken that walk,
not slammed that door,
not said what he said
on the way to this walk.
Should have, could have, and now
will she or won’t she?
Like black petals on a green flower in a snowy field,
like sullen birds roosting in the shadows,
where there used to be trees
and a woman that sang,
sang like this
even as he persists
on trying to find some way home.
Marc Harshman’s WOMAN IN RED ANORAK, Blue Lynx Prize winner, was published in 2018 by Lynx House Press. His previous collection, BELIEVE WHAT YOU CAN, Vandalia/West Virginia University Press won the Weatherford Award. His fourteenth children’s book, FALLINGWATER, with co-author Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan. He is co-winner of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and his Thanksgiving poem, “Dispatch from the Mountain State,” was recently printed in the New York Times. Poems have been anthologized by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, and the University of Arizona. His newest title, THE SHADOW TESTIMONIES, is forthcoming from Salmon Press, Ireland. Appointed in 2012, he is the seventh poet laureate of West Virginia.
Illustrations from Albert Robida's, Le vingtième siècle: la vie électrique (Paris: La Librairie Illustrée, 1893). Robida is sometimes credited with imagining something like a combination of Zoom and Netflix, but in doing so he proved the point that we often imagine technological advances in a way so as to protect our interests. For a detailed discussion of Robida's work, and his all-too-self-serving predictions of the future, see the essay at The Public Domain Review here: https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/albert-robida-la-vie-electrique