Night Marauder, or, Return of the Raccoon

by Sharon Kunde

Raucous bawking yanks us from a sweaty sleep;
we charge the yard, snap on lights, throw wide
the coop, prepared to face the night
marauder munching chicken dinner, keen for salt
crunch of bones and beak and dainty feet:
last spring we found a headless hen in nesting box,
priapic pink neck sprouting gray tubes.
We placed her corpse on compost altar,
stirred her into its microbial fires.

Like county fair past dark, backyard lights glare.
Hens gabble and flap, feathers and pulverized shit
sift down around us. Jumbled barks: glimpsed
critter slips past the dogs next door. No ritual
sacrifice tonight. Free the feather-footed chick
wedged in a corner, where any claw-fisted thug
could slash and feast on her trapped heart.
We seal the box, subside in bed, dark’s raft heavy
with sleeping children, me fifteen again and sick
with hormones’ undertow, Tilt-A-Whirl’s lurch, candy-
colored neon, Illinois’s loamy whiff. Windows wide,
we float below avocado’s miraculous canopy.
A nightingale speaks to scant starlight.
Daybreak: swing wide the door and out race
all eight. Necks pumping, they sprint to yard’s
choicest haunts—raised beds’ crumbled soil; tree’s
bug-dense humus. From where I write,
desk corner-wedged, I watch their matins:
twirl duff with feet, taste tomato plants,
wipe beaks on grass, stretch wide their wings.

Except when death grasps tight its neck,
does a chicken know it might not be?
I write in shadow, move material
here and there, hunt and peck for crumbs,
glad night’s marauder passed me by again,
sky’s lid opened on another day.
Do I know that execution’s daily stay but keens my greed
to sprint neck pumping into sunrise after sunrise
after sunrise, lurk this side of compost’s sweet
heat, tender body-tonguing, steadfast oath to share
me with ants and slick pink worms? O past self, gutsick
with teenage grease and wanting. O future self, sifting
to ashes and dust: taste now death’s
honey breath in stretchings,
wipings, scratchings, swallows, licks,
and wetnesses. Huddle with the edgy
hens; join their morning chorus; forgive yourself
for not having been able to know, forgive me
for not having been able to tell.

Published on May 7, 2021