40 YEARS OF CUTBANK: "Telling the Chicken" by Kellie Wells

From CutBank 35 Telling the Chicken

The skinny is this: Last night I dreamt of chickens, glowing fat and white. They were spinning in circles on the tips of their tangerine claws, their feet and legs a thorny axis. They whirled, beaks skyward, and feathers flew. They were perfect in their gyrations, as if their movements had been divined by some force long ago when cosmic laws were set. And I thought to myself, this is what happens when the magnetic fields reverse, an event for which I have been waiting patiently for quite some time.

It gets hotter than Dutch love in Lucas, Kansas in August. The cicadas scream with the heat. Public records tell us it was 112 here on August 18, 1909, so global warming hasn’t touched us much, though the rest of the world seems to be catching up. I’ve got my eye on those polar ice caps.

Lotta was a bonafide beauty. She had bobbed, black hair and milk white ski so pure and clean it made you want to go home and take a bath. When Lotta got sick, her lips went funny. They were thick lips long before collagen, but an odd wet brown-blood color would rush into them at night, and they looked like pieces of raw liver. Sometimes my heart ached so bad for Lotta, I wanted to take her head into my mouth and hide her from herself.

The Garden of Eden is located here in Lucas. In the summer, curious tourists flock to gander at the cement rendering of the famed creation. I must admit it is impressive. The brittle, repose body of the Garden’s architect and sculptor is preserved in a glass case in the backyard. Age-wise, he appears to have given Methuselah a run for his money. Lotta and I would often sit beneath a long stretch of cement serpent and discuss the wages of sin. Her papa was an occasional minister at the Open Door Baptist Church.

Lucas is only a nod and holler from Cawker City, where the Largest Ball of Twine sits proud and bulbous. It’s something you can be a part of, this ball of twine, you can be responsible for making it larger, securing its spot in the Guiness Book of Records, so no made-in-a-day coastal ball can squeeze it out of its rightful place. When Lotta died, I drove to Cawker City and donated a fair bulk of fine hemp in her name. They wound it on right then and there with a makeshift rod and spool device. The ball of twine is big and round as anything. It’s bulging symmetry makes your eyes water.

Lotta’s papa was a chicken farmer. He could balance an egg on its end when it wasn’t the vernal equinox. When Lotta died, he gave me a gross of fertile eggs. Sometimes I crack them open in private and touch the blood spots.

Lotta’s papa killed all the chickens except one. He cracked neck after neck, loaded them into trash bags, dove them to the church parking lot, and flung the lot of them into the mouth of the dumpster. The one he kept was Lotta’s favorite, a fancy batman. It rode on her shoulder and whispered sweet things in her ear, nibbling at the kernel of her lobe. When Lotta fell sick, it took to walking in circles like a carnival pony. Lotta’s papa coddled it after the funeral. He blew on its beak and massaged its feat. He asked me if I’d talk to it, try to explain what happened.

I took the chicken to the Garden. It wouldn’t stay on my shoulder, so I held it under my arm. It knew the blond hair it tugged at was not Lotta’s. I pointed to the long, skinny figure of Eve. “People blame a heap of heartache on her,” I said, “but I don’t think she had any foresight of histoplasmosis.” The chicken kicked then went limp, crossing over from denial to acceptance.

Everyone’s lawns are jaundiced with heat. Sometimes with the last hot gasp of summer we get quick, hard rains and meteor-sized hail, but not this time. The street is no place to fry an egg, despite the TV meteorologist’s suggestion.

I am taking shepherd’s pie to Lotta’s papa tonight. He has bought the chicken a toy piano. He will prod it to play with a handful of feed on the keys. It will peck out an unfamiliar tune and then turn round and round till the next request. Lotta’s papa will sing about the sweet sound of grace, and the chicken will roll on its back with a soft gurgle of clucks, and we’ll both rub its stomach.

Tonight the world will turn on its ear, chicken, I can feel it. Glacier’s will thaw and drip, fat magnets will fly up towards a hot shower of stars and a shiver of moist dreams will shake me away as eggs crack and scatter.