Hatchling by Temme von Lackum Dedlow

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. 

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