Inside the city, our family lived in a termite-infested house next to Eagle Rock Elementary, rent reduced because my teacher-father watched my school on weekends making sure no one climbed fences or played on the playground. Outside, a gate connected us to the school garden where Mr. Nelson, the gardening teacher, showed students chicken eggs incubating—including an embryo chart: hard shell of protection, soft cushion of albumin, an eye, a brain, a heart.
Once the chicks hatched and each child had held one Mr. Nelson gave them to my country-bred father. Through a peephole in a dusty shed outside the house I watched them grow large in their darkness, running scratching and flapping. One Saturday, outside in the sunshine, I saw my father wring a chicken’s neck. It ran around and around until it dropped to the ground. Was it dead or alive? I followed my father as he carried the wilted chicken by its feet inside the house.
I saw my father present the chicken to my city-bred mother who gave him a tight smile and plopped it in the kitchen sink. I saw her pull its feathers out one by one. I saw its skin resembled mine when bath water grew cold. I saw her raise the chicken to the light streaming in the window from outside. I saw pale arms, a fat torso, chubby legs—a baby!
I saw a knife appear in the hand that held my head when I was fevered, held my stomach when I vomited. I saw my mother's mouth concentrated twisted, as if she was thinking, Someone before me did this—I can do it, too. I saw her hand slice the baby down the middle: arms, legs, quickly removed, insides now outside, liver, kidneys, even the heart I loved to chew—sorted and counted like coins. From the floor where I sat, I looked up to my mother who paused, turned, and looked down at me.
"This is why we give thanks," she said.
—California-born CR Green lives and writes from Christchurch, New Zealand where she facilitates two weekly writing groups for women. One group meets in the center of a city still in recovery after a devastating series of earthquakes; the other group meets in her little seaside village nearby. This poem had its beginning in a Poetry Barn workshop led by Tina Barry.