THE MORNING AFTER, BY JESSICA POLI
When I opened the door to the coop
and saw three chickens and a mallard lying dead
in the soggy pine chips, I thought the raccoon
had made clean kills of all the birds it wanted
in the night. So forgive me if I shouted
when I walked into the yard and saw the duck
standing motionless, head covered in blood,
a marble statue after a war.
And still I’d seen enough death to know
she was near enough to it to be counted
among the ones already scooped into the wheelbarrow.
Even so, I filled the plastic duck pool, hoping
that she would splash off her wounds
then go about her day.
But when I placed her in the water
she only bobbed, neck drawn close
against her body where I thought
I glimpsed bone. Sometimes animals tell you
when they’re ready. Taylor sharpened
the small ax while I picked her up
and set her on the ground, stretching her neck
across a wooden board, and all the while
she didn’t struggle. When the blade came down,
I didn’t know to hold her body tightly
and so it leapt from my hands and ran
ten feet before it stopped
and sank to the ground where its neck arced
and swung, mourning itself.
Taylor and I stood over what was left of her.
And yes, we laughed a little afterwards, remembering
the shock of her lunging from my grip,
the way we froze, cartoonlike, at the sight,
but mostly when we talk about it we grow quiet,
our own memories of the morning filling
the crevasses of our thoughts until a rooster crow
or the bleating of a lamb summons us back.
Jessica Poli is the author of four chapbooks and co-editor of the collection More in Time: A Tribute to Ted Kooser (University of Nebraska Press, 2021). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Southern Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, and Redivider, among other places. She is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, founder and editor of Birdfeast, and Assistant Poetry Editor of Prairie Schooner.