Moonlight: Chickens On The Road

By Robert Wrigley b. 1951 Robert Wrigley
Called out of dream by the pitch and screech,   
I awoke to see my mother’s hair
set free of its pincurls, springing out
into the still and hurtling air
above the front seat and just as suddenly gone.   
The space around us twisted,
and in the instant before the crash
I heard the bubbling of the chickens,
the homely racket they make at all speeds,   
signifying calm, resignation, oblivion.

And I listened. All through the slash
and clatter, the rake of steel, shatter of glass,   
I listened, and what came
was a blizzard moan in the wind, a wail   
of wreckage, severed hoses and lives,
a storm of loose feathers, and in the final   
whirl approximating calm, the cluck   
and fracas of the birds. I crawled
on hands and knees where a window should   
have been and rose uneven

in November dusk. Wind blew
a snow of down, and rows of it quivered along   
the shoulder. One thin stream of blood
oozed, flocked in feathers.
This was in the Ozarks, on a road curving miles   
around Missouri, and as far as I could
see, no light flickered through the timber,   
no mail box leaned the flag
of itself toward pavement, no cars
seemed ever likely to come along.

So I walked, circled the darkening disaster   
my life had come to, and cried.
I cried for my family there,
knotted in the snarl of metal and glass;   
for the farmer, looking dead, half in
and half out of his windshield; and for myself,   
ambling barefoot through the jeweled debris,   
glass slitting little blood-stars in my soles,   
my arm hung loose at the elbow
and whispering its prophecies of pain.

Around and around the tilted car
and the steaming truck, around the heap
of exploded crates, the smears and small hunks   
of chicken and straw. Through
an hour of loneliness and fear
I walked, in the almost black of Ozark night,   
the moon just now burning into Missouri. Behind me,   
the chickens followed my lead,
some fully upright, pecking

the dim pavement for suet or seed,
some half-hobbled by their wounds, worthless wings   
fluttering in the effort. The faintest
light turned their feathers phosphorescent,
and as I watched they came on, as though they believed   
me some savior, some highwayman
or commando come to save them the last night   
of their clucking lives. This, they must have
believed, was the end they’d always heard of,
this the rendering more efficient than the axe,

the execution more anonymous than
a wringing arm. I walked on, no longer crying,
and soon the amiable and distracted chattering came   
again, a sound like chuckling, or the backward suck   
of hard laughter. And we walked   
to the cadence their clucking called,   
a small boy towing a cloud around a scene   
of death, coming round and round   
like a dream, or a mountain road,   
like a pincurl, like pulse, like life.

Robert Wrigley, “Moonlight: Chickens on the Road” from Moon in a Mason Jar. Copyright © 1986 by Robert Wrigley. Reprinted with the permission of author and the University of Illinois Press.

Source: Moon in a Mason Jar (University of Illinois Press, 1988)

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Poet Robert Wrigley b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Sorrow & Grieving, Living, Pets, Relationships, Health & Illness

 Robert  Wrigley

Biography

Robert Wrigley was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. He was drafted in 1971, but was discharged as a conscientious objector. The first in his family to graduate from college, and the first male for generations to escape work in a coal mine, Wrigley earned his MFA from the University of Montana, where he studied with Madeline DeFrees, John Haines, and Richard Hugo.

Wrigley believes that poetry can influence the world and . . .

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SUBJECT Sorrow & Grieving, Living, Pets, Relationships, Health & Illness

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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