The hen’s tidy pillow of warm down has gone to mess
shell fragments and pin feathers and clumping shavings
three chicks out and gone and a single, cold egg left:
a failure, we call it, to hatch.
I set down a lone tick mark in the grid.
A soggy summer afternoon, we are damp
in our mosquito sleeves; damp in the hum of the wetland
too slowed and hot to flinch
at the aluminum screech of the ladder folding.
He stands with the small grayish egg
strutted between three work-thick fingers
Have you ever opened one? he says, it’s kind of neat.
We make a notch and pry
the shell comes apart and beneath it
a furled wet thing slumps into the new shape of its space
sleek dark feathers in a web of red veining, it moves
Oh! I say, trying to swallow my sudden distress. Oh, it looks like a heartbeat.
I don’t think so, he says, sounding uncertain, nah, it’s dead.
I shudder and try to peer closer
try to appear unaffected
the creature still half cradled in its broken shell heaves again,
he shrugs suddenly and
pitches it away.
The wetland gulps it back.
We stand in a gray, slick silence.
I don’t know if it was dead, I say at last, my voice is unsteady
my heart is a wet heaving thing inside my ribcage.
Nah, he says, they’re usually dead. I don’t know. They’re usually dead. I think it was dead.
Who are we to feel so affected by this tiny thing, bleeding out
a chick like that never leaves the egg.
No perpetuity before it, less than even we
are allowed, we who have emerged from our small casings.
I think it was dead, he says again,
and I shrug as if it doesn’t matter anyhow, and shoulder the ladder.
Temme von Lackum Dedlow is an aspiring writer and Bay Area native with a background in wildlife biology. She can be found at her happiest sitting on the ground with a pen and notebook, following the nearest patch of sun around the backyard like a cat.