Doña Teresa and the Chicken

By Denice Frohman

the wooden house in Castañer didn’t come with air
conditioner or anything cool. The heat was its own
kind of music, & so was abuela—demanding,
sharp-tongued. The kind of woman, I imagine
whose teeth grew in because she told them to.
So the chicken never had a chance.
It ran around the backyard, flapping
its black-feathered wings for mercy, for god’s
attention, but Papa Dios knew better
than to get in between a woman
feeding her grandkids. I looked
over my shoulder & there she was,
chasing it, like an old lover
she came back to haunt yelling:
hijo de puta! sin vergüenza! ven acá!

Her rosary beads slapped against her chest,
over & over like a chant, & you knew everything
in her path was temporary. Even the wind buckled
at the knees, at the sight of a woman
too wise to act like her blood was softer
than it was—& I saw her do it . . . & I think she knew
because the chicken clucked so hard it spit up
its own good throat & she laughed; grabbed it
by the neck & swung it high above her
head like a propeller. All summer I tried,
but couldn’t unsee that. Once, she gutted mom’s
favorite pig with a machete & fed it to her—
on her 12th birthday. Maybe that’s how mama learned
to love us, to kill the thing that feeds you.
Years later, she didn’t go to her best friend’s funeral
or the vecina who mothered her in New York. Barely
made it through abuela’s; I suppose all she had was to love
until death. & no more. But when we got to the funeral
home & saw Doña Teresa lying
in the casket—arms crossed, chin cocked up—
the whole family busted out crying,
wanting her to come back, wanting her to shout:
Didn’t I prepare you better than this—

Credits

Originally published in The Adroit Journal.