What Survives

by Leah Tieger

My neighbor’s daughter says hello
through the fence. In our story
I become her friend. She shares
her teenage secrets while her father
shoots hawks from the air. They land
in my yard impossibly large. Faraway birds
brought sudden and close. So I become
mortician with grocery bags for gloves.
My neighbor’s chickens fly over the fence
to hide from roosters or from
the jealous hens. I water my roses and
an errant chicken sips from the hose.
Neck pecked bare. My friend comes out
to rescue her father’s chicken. I told him
I like girls, she says. The thought of it
kills him. Then let it, I say, in a different kind
of story: One where there can be no loss
to leaving a love that knows nothing
of love. Back in our story, the chicken
runs from us like a dancer. I find
her throat and feather fused to the road
the next day, a single wing raised at the sky
in protest. Here, there are countless ways
a body won’t survive. Most of them cruel.
And there are as many merciless ways
a body will. My neighbor’s aim
has never been perfect. A grazed hawk
falls into my yard and I throw a blanket
over resistant body. I wrestle the bird
into box and take it to rescue where
it will be nursed back to flight in a cage.
My neighbor’s flock survives to become
my neighbor’s dinner. His daughter
slices their throats. She goes to school
and comes home every day. She tells me
she counts down the years. In a different kind
of story, she becomes the errant chicken
who rises from the pavement and turns
into a girl without a father. My neighbor
is turned into hawk, and I into gun
because every kind of story takes flight
with feather and metal. And our story lands
at a fence. It draws a line. Dares me to cross it.

Leah Tieger is the poetry contest editor for American Literary Review. She was a semifinalist for the 2016 Raynes Poetry Prize and a 2017 Pushcart prize nominee. Her work appears in Pleiades, Entropy, Rattle, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere.