by Cathy Larson Sky

after Carl Larsson’s The Garden Gate 1890-1899

1            Inside the house there will always be a tin coffee pot, a dining room with gauze curtains, blue and white China, Delftware’s echo. A vase of peonies. A woman with hair tied up Gibson-style, brunette strands escaping hairpins, shows off an apple-cheeked toddler.

Larsson’s chickens cluck in the hay by the gate. Feed scatters, the hens rush. Hannah’s alto murmurs an old Swedish hymn. She is my grandmother at eighty-five, in her nightdress, feeding invisible childhood chickens. Eggshells, potato skins, oatmeal scrapings litter the grass.

2            Route 295 has eaten the front yard. Aunt Grace goes down the stone front steps in her bathrobe, wanders into traffic. She is tired of waiting waiting for the limo from the Swedish embassy. Queen Fredericka has flown to New York, anxious for Grace’s counsel.

Outside the psychiatric wing, her three brothers huddle in a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere. Grace’s doctor has asked them to come, wants to know could there be any truth to her recurring nightmare? The brothers agree, no need to reveal what they witnessed as kids, how their father tormented Grace as a child. Besides, they reason, who would it help?

3            Nestled at the edge of the broody patch, tail feathers gently curved, Larsson’s rooster is almost invisible. Only his scarlet comb and mask betray him. The artist has chosen not to capture the rooster upright, his swinging wattle, his leathery feet and talons.

Cathy Larson Sky, long-time student of the Great Smokies Writing Program, is the author of the chapbook Blue egg, my heart (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Her poetry has won awards from Kakalak and the North Carolina Poetry Society, including first place in the Thomas H. McDill Award, 2015. An Irish traditional fiddler, she often alternates between tunes and poetry at readings.

About Chickens—This ekphrastic poem, inspired by Carl Larsson’s paintings of idyllic domesticity, allowed me to contrast his vision with the Swedish side of my family tree, whose dramas are Strindberg-worthy.