Member Monday: Maudie’s Chickens by Sharon Owen

Welcome back to Member Monday!  It’s a pleasure to share a piece from Writers Forum Program Chair Sharon Owen.

Maudie’s Chickens

Maudie was five years old when Papa put her in charge of the chickens. The first thing he taught her was how to feed them.

“Don’t use but half a can of grain. And scatter it around so they all get a chance at it.”  He dipped into the grain can, cupped a handful, and tossed it lightly out into the chicken yard. “Here chickee, chickee,” he clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Here chickee, chickee.”  He scattered another handful. “That’s the way it’s done girl, now you try it.”

Maudie hugged the can against her chest with one arm while she tried to scoop out the grain the way he had shown her. Most of it fell to the ground at her feet, but Papa just said, “That’s it, girl. From now on, these chickens are depending on you.”

Next he taught her to change the straw in the nests where the hens laid their eggs. She quickly learned to arrange each nest with just enough straw to cushion the rough boards.

Her favorite chore was checking on the baby chicks. She peeked at them every day, opening the roof of the brood box just enough to reach in and touch the downy yellow babies. Sometimes she took one out and cradled it for a moment, marveling at the soft, weightless life she held in her hands.

Papa’s chicken house was divided into two sections. One side for the layers and the other for the fryers. When Maudie’s chicks were grown, Papa put some in each section. She fed and watered all the chickens, and she gathered the eggs from the layers’ side every day. Maudie wanted her chickens to be happy, because Papa said when they were happy they laid eggs with double yolks.

Every time Mama broke an egg with a double yolk Papa said, “Give it to  Maudie. She takes good care of her chickens.”

One Sunday after church Mama said, “I could use a fryer, Roy.”

Papa said,  “Come along, Maudie, let’s tend to it.” They walked together down the path to the chicken house. “Go on inside and bring me one of the fryers, girl.”

Maudie went inside. “Here chickee, chickee,” she crooned. One of her brood came toward her, jerking its neck, turning to fix a curious yellow eye on her. Was it time for grain, or had she come as she often did with special table scraps?  Maudie picked up the young hen and took her outside to where Papa was waiting.

“Stand back,” he said.

Maudie stepped backward and watched while Papa took the hen’s clawed yellow feet into one of his giant brown hands. He flopped the chicken down so that her head lay across a block of wood, and with one swift, sure stroke he brought a hatchet down across the bird’s neck. The head dropped to the ground, and Papa let go of the feet. The bird’s wings flapped, and it ran headless across the yard, showering the vegetable garden with dark red drops of blood, careening wildly until it finally crashed against the trunk of a plum tree, where it lay still at last.

“Go fetch that fryer, girl, grab it by the feet and take it to Mama. Hold it away from you, head down, so you don’t get blood on your clothes.”

Maudie’s eyes streamed with tears and she felt a choking lump in her throat, but she obeyed Papa. She had never disobeyed him. She had never even considered it. Mama had a large vat of boiling hot water in one of the deep cement sinks in the laundry porch. She took the bird from Maudie, held it by the feet and dipped it into the water. “We’ll just scald this fryer for a minute, Maudie, then the feathers will come right out.”  She pulled the bird up, dripping and steaming, it’s severed neck exposed. “See this?”  She grabbed a handful of its feathers. “See how easy it is?  The feathers practically fall right out of a scalded bird.”  She reached out and took Maudie’s arm. “Come here, Honey, take a handful.”  Maudie gripped some of the wet feathers and pulled. They came out easily, leaving a ragged circle of exposed white flesh.

“There,” Mama said, “see how easy that was?”

Maudie’s hand was smothered in damp, clinging feathers. She tried to brush them off, but they stuck to the fingers of her other hand. Mama watched her and laughed. “You’ve gotta rinse your hands with water, Maudie, you’ll never get ’em off that way.”

That night Maudie picked at her mashed potatoes while Mama and Papa talked over their day, laughing and passing the fried chicken back and forth across the table.

Maudie didn’t eat the next day. For a week she didn’t eat or talk or go near the chicken house. Finally Papa said he guessed they couldn’t keep chickens if Maudie wouldn’t take care of them.

“I’ll just have to butcher the lot of them, Mama. I’ll tend to it tomorrow.”

After her parents went to sleep that night Maudie sneaked out of the house and went to the tool shed. The hatchet lay on Papa’s work bench, still stained with blood. Barefoot, she walked the moonlit path that led past the chicken house to the pasture gate. She held the hatchet in one hand, and dragged Papa’s shovel in the other. Stepping cautiously to avoid goat-head vines and fat summer toads, she made her way to the farthest corner of the pasture where she bent to her work. The field had been irrigated that day, leaving the ground muddy and soft, but the shovel was so big she had trouble getting leverage. Finally she gave up and fell to her knees, digging at the damp earth with her hands. If she made the hole deep enough Papa would never find the hatchet. Thistles tore at her fingers, but she kept digging deeper and deeper.

“Girl, what are you doing out here?”

Maudie jumped at the sound of Papa’s voice, twisting her body around, trying to hide the hatchet from his view, but it was too late.

“Is that my hatchet, girl?”

“Yes Papa.”  She bent her head in shame.

“What are you doing with it?”

“Burying it.”

“Why?”

“You killed my chicken.”

“But girl, didn’t you know we were going to eat the fryers?”

“No.”  She raised her chin and faced her father in the moonlight. “You said I should take good care of them. You said they were my chickens.”

Papa hunkered down next to Maudie and took her bleeding fingers into his hands. He turned them over and touched the raw, dirt-filled blisters on her palms. Then he picked up the shovel and stood above her .

“You dug a pretty good hole here, girl, but it’s not quite deep enough.”  He anchored the tip of the shovel in the shallow cup she had made and brought his boot down hard on its heel.

He lifted the spadeful of dirt and set it aside. “There, that’s about the right size for a hatchet.”  Maudie looked up at her father, but a cloud had covered the moon and in that moment he was a faceless giant towering over her in the darkness.

“Well go on, girl,” he said, “drop it in there.”

She picked up the hatchet and dropped it into the hole they had dug.

“Those chickens of yours are all layers now, girl. That means you’re gonna have to work twice as hard collecting all those eggs.”

The cloud drifted past and Maudie saw her father plain as day. “I will, Papa, I don’t mind.”

Papa knelt down beside Maudie, and together in the moonlight they packed the little grave with soft, damp clods of earth.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If  you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Member Monday: Linda Boyden, Tim Hemeon and Charlie Price

Welcome to a special audio edition of Member Monday.  On July 8th Writers Forum members Linda Boyden, Tim Hemeon and Charlie Price were featured on “The Kitchen Sink” with Rachel Lane on kcnr1460AM.

Here’s a little more about “The Kitchen Sink” according to Linda Boyden. “The Kitchen Sink at kncr1460AM.com is the weekly talk show brainchild of radio personality, Rachel Lane. It airs Sundays from 4-5pm and strives to include a wide range of topics, hence its name The Kitchen Sink, it is a forum to discuss everything including the kitchen sink!  Rachel lines up community-based topics that bring light to non-profit organizations, fund-raisers, and all aspects of the arts in Shasta County.

You’ll love hearing these three authors talk about their writing processes and their newest offerings.  Click here to listen to the full episode.

Writers Forum members Tim Hemeon, Charlie Price and Linda Boyden on “The Kitchen Sink”
Photo courtesy of Linda Boyden


Member Monday: In the Gaps by Jennifer Phelps

Jennifer Phelps

Welcome back to Member Monday!  Please help me welcome my friend and talented writer, Jennifer Phelps.  Jennifer writes at Naked Notebook, an “online notebook” (the word “blog” just sounds so clunky!) featuring writing that is spontaneous and minimally edited (this is why it’s “naked” – get it?) Posts are transcribed directly from the pages of Jennifer’s wide-ruled spiral notebooks that she buys on sale for 70 cents and dutifully scrawls in before bed each night or upon arising in the morning (or, on a particularly good day, both).

In the Gaps

I’m focusing on living in the gaps. It’s been a little over two months since my mother died,and when she was sick everything was gaps. She was hanging in a gap as if suspended over a gorge, halfway between earth and sky. Nothing was clear-cut when Mom was dying, and oddly, that somehow made sense. As if that’s what dying is: slipping into the gap.

Here’s what I mean by gaps.  Recently I e-mailed a poem to someone. The poem was called “Trying to Raise the Dead” by Dorianne Laux, one of my favorite contemporary poets.  My reader replied, saying that he found the poem, like most poetry,  “cryptic.”  I have never been of the mind that Laux’s poetry is circumspect or obscure with a difficult-to-delineate meaning. This reader was hung up on the details. The narrator is at a house. “Whose house?” my reader demanded. She’s at a party and she doesn’t know the people that well. “Why is she there? Why doesn’t she know them?” She’s outside, and the others are inside, singing. “How come? Why doesn’t she go back inside with them?” (To this, I answered, “Maybe she was smoking a cigarette.”  Geesh.)

Poetry leaves gaps. I’m comfortable with them. Not the esoteric, overly academic puzzle poems people love to praise, probably because they figure something so convoluted must be intelligent. Laux’s poetry isn’t pretentious or overworked. It just leaves open space so that when I read it, I can make it mine.

My mother loved poetry, understood the gaps, was in her element in them, actually.  But she loved music more.  She used to say that music speaks to that for which there are no words. So does poetry, I say. Good poetry, anyway.

Now that Mom is gone, I’m left trying to articulate to people what made her special, what it is that I miss. What I miss is that she knew a deep truth. That knowing was her unique gift. I will miss her facility with gaps.

I suppose my mother can be found only in those spaces between things now.  Wherever, if anywhere, the essence of her exists, it is not on this physical plane. At least, this is what I tell myself so that I don’t keep looking here. I look there – in the gaps. I listen to song after song, read poem after poem, trying to find one that makes me feel just the right way. Makes me feel like she is still here.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If  you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference

Applications are now being accepted for the 6th annual Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference scheduled for Sept. 13-16 in Cedarville, California.

This year Western States Book Award winner Primus St. John and Copper Canyon Press co-founder William O’Daly will lead poetry workshops. A new poetry translation workshop will be led by noted Rilke translator Anita Barrows.

Novelist Kirby Wilkins, author of “Quantum Web,” will conduct the fiction workshop and Ray A. March, a recent Pushcart Prize nominee for “River in Ruin: The Story of the Carmel River,” will lead the creative nonfiction sessions.

The conference, which emphasizes the craft of writing, is open to writers of all skill levels.

The four-day event includes three-hour workshops each morning, an afternoon lecture series, dinners, a “field trip,” open mic and free time to write.

The application deadline is Aug. 1, and the conference is limited to 50 participants.

Writers interested in attending the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference may click on their website for submission guidelines and further details.

SPECIAL UPDATE:

SVWC has established a scholarship fund in the name of their old friend and writer/activist, Steve Turner. With that they’re offering a matching fund scholarship to a qualified recipient to attend the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference on Sept. 13-16.  The scholarship will fund $225 and the applicant or organization is required to cover the balance of $225. This scholarship does not include travel or lodgings, but does cover two dinners and includes the entire program. Applicants can be writers of poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction.  Deadline for applying is Aug. 1. We will notify the chosen applicant by Aug. 15 and a writing sample from the chosen recipient must be sent to us that date.  Click here for information on how to apply for this generous scholarship.

Member Monday: Freedom Falls by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday!  It’s my pleasure to share a few thoughts from my month in Uganda.  Special thanks to Larry Watters for watching over the website in my absence.  To read more about my time in Uganda, please visit pedalsandpencils.com.

Freedom Falls

I’ve been home a little over a day now.  To get home I passed through five airports and flew on four different airplanes before my hubs drove me the last leg home.

I flashed my passport through countless screenings and talked with several new friends on the planes home.  Each time someone discovered that I’d spent the month in Uganda, they’d ask two questions.

“What were you doing there???”  I’d tell them about helping 50 or so kids write a book about pivotal moments in their lives.  We’d have a brief conversation about the kids and their writing and without fail they’d ask the second question.

“So how is Uganda doing?”  This question was often times paired with a gulp and a brow wrinkled with equal parts fear and worry.

I loved this question.  It’s one of the reasons I took this journey to begin with.  I wanted to see how Uganda and her people were doing.  I wanted to hear and help record firsthand stories from her children.

The best way I can answer the question of how Uganda is doing is to tell you a story about two of Uganda’s waterfalls.

Murchison Falls

This is Murchison Falls.  It’s a mere seven meters wide and at one point in time the whole of the Nile had to pass through this narrow gap.  It is staggeringly beautiful, but make no mistake, Murchison Falls is a crashing, thundering force to be reckoned with.  Living beings who have the misfortune of falling into the crevice of the falls do not resurface again until the water has suffocated all of the life and breath out of them.

In 1962 Uganda was granted freedom from Britain.  This may surprise you because even Uganda’s most recent history is marred by dictatorial leaders and bloodthirsty warlords, not to mention the corruption that has taken root and entwined itself around the hearts of most of Uganda’s politicians.  But indeed on January 15, 1962 Uganda was declared an independent country.

Another surprising thing happened in Uganda in 1962.

It rained.

Hear me out, during the wet season, it rains a lot in Uganda.  Almost daily rainstorms roll in with the evening and pelt the earth until the morning sunlight glistens in the pools of rain atop the sodden earth.

In 1962 the rains didn’t roll in and out.  They rolled in and stayed, pouring themselves into the mighty Nile who rose to the challenge.  Her waters ascended like never before, sending creatures to higher ground lest the Nile drink them in.  Day and night the rain fell until the unimaginable happened.

Instead of squeezing herself through the oppressive rocks of Murchison Falls, the Nile burst over the land and a completely new waterfall was born.  It was like the whole country, from breathing men to teeming rivers, rose up and claimed freedom.  The second waterfall was called Gulu Falls.  Gulu is a Bagandan name meaning ‘God of the sky’.  However most locals call it by another name: Freedom Falls.

Gulu Falls (left) and Murchison Falls (right)

Each time I answered the question ‘How is Uganda doing?’ I thought of Gulu Falls and I thought of the students I worked with at Restore Leadership Academy.  After living through a time of thundering, crashing oppression, there is a generation of young Ugandans rising up.  They’re dedicated to justice over corruption, love instead of vengeance and healing for their scarred land.

How is Uganda doing?

She’s headed for a bright future because when young people have hearts full of love, minds dedicated to justice and a yearning for freedom, well, that’s a force that simply can’t be contained.  And when it spills out over the land, Uganda is going to find herself completely sodden with the kind of freedom that once caused the Nile to entwine herself over the land and move in a completely new direction.

Freedom Falls

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If  you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

Member Monday: I Wish the Company of a Little Girl I Lost Somewhere by Dale Angel

Welcome  back to Member Monday.  Today it’s my pleasure to share another piece by the lovely and talented Dale Angel.

I Wish the Company of a Little Girl I Lost Somewhere

by Dale Angel

I wish the company of a little girl I lost somewhere
Who picked flowers without stems… caught raindrops on her tongue
Tamed ladybugs as hand to hand they crawled
Reaching to touch the clouds became a dove
Almost catching shadows as they moved across the wall
Her world was real of pretend… where did I lose her?
I’m looking for you… can you hear my call?
When we were young and foolish and filled with mirth and glee
Distances and challenges were things we did not see
We pursued life as though a happy game
Not comprehending a future day… when we’d have to walk on the
Bridges we built as we played and played and played.
May I catch and hold the summers of my life
When the sun is at its peak
To warm me in the winter… to nourish my decline
May I wrap my memories about me to entertain my tomorrow
When I’m old and lonely and fragile as my world descends to night
May I store away for my future use … the priceless, exquisite
mornings of… my precious fleeting youth.

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.

The Spontaneous Pen: July, 2012

Writers Forum member and former newsletter editor, Jennifer Phelps, is back with this month’s Spontaneous Pen.  

One jump line.  Ninety seconds to write.  Go!

This month’s jump line is:

The sultry days of summer…

Take 90 seconds to finish the jump line and then post your response in the comments section.  All online comments will be posted here.  Due to limited space only, selected responses will be published in next month’s newsletter.