I Help Nana Kill the Chicken

by Dana Lichty

We chase down a Dorking rooster.
Nana pulls him feet first
from the fenced yard, holds tight.
She shows me how to snap the neck.
The bird churns the air, squawks,
at last is silent and still.
She uses an axe to chop off his head,
carries boiling water down steep stairs
to the dirtfloorcellar—
jars of bread-and-butter pickles,
strawberry jam line the walls.
We dunk the rooster in his fiery bath,
ignore the pungent stink, pluck the chicken
until his nakedshellpinkself is fully visible.
Nana wields a sharp knife and guts him—
dinner for the pigs. Innards spill
over her small hands, slime coats
the wedding ring she wears no matter what.
In the kitchen, we dredge in flour
wings legs breasts thighs,
fork them with care into a sea of grease,
spooned from the DintyMooreBeefStew can
at the back of the white enamel stove.
He fries spitfire hot in the cast iron skillet
Nana has used her whole married life.
I have eaten this same meal
nearly every Sunday of my entire life—
chicken with mashed potatoes,
gravy, string beans, cherry pie,
vanilla ice cream churned by hand.
It is worship, this chickentime with Nana,
who has pure love for me,
rolls her eyes when her son chastises
me for everygoddamnedlittlething.
She lives to 94, long enough
to see me a wife and mother.
Right after closing the coffin,
her son hands over a small red velvet bag,
a thin gold band inside.
Your grandmother wanted you to have this.
My dad lies about that.
My cast iron, rooster killing,
pure love Nana never had such a thought.
I wear her wedding ring every day.

Throughout her career as a fundraiser and management consultant for New York City non-profits, Dana Lichty wrote thousands of proposals and reports. After moving to Asheville, North Carolina, in 2011, she signed up for her first Great Smokies writing course, mistakenly thinking it was on prose, not poetry. She is grateful for the confusion. Dana is now at work on a series of poems about the Iowa she knew as a child. This one is dedicated to her beloved grandmother, Ada Faye Robinson Lichty.